Since 1979, mountaineering rangers in Talkeetna have written reports of that year's mountaineering season. These reports are available by year, below.
Nearly every year, these reports contain overall statistics on the number of expeditions and mountaineers attempting a climb, as well as a total number of summits, broken down by the route climbed on Denali. Download these mountaineering statistics, which have been compiled into one file.
Note: These reports are historical. Keep in mind that certain references are contemporary to the report itself (e.g., calling the mountain "Mount McKinley" instead of "Denali," old lists of guiding companies or advice on waste disposal that is no longer correct). For current information on planning a mountaineering trip on Denali or Mount Foraker, please check out our mountaineering info.
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2010
In the fall of 2009, newly appointed Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis challenged all NPS employees to renew our dedication to resource stewardship and focus our efforts around several core principles: community outreach, education, science-based decision making, and “greening up” our operations. While these same principles have long guided our mountaineering program, I am proud to say that we re-invigorated these efforts and lived up to the Director’s challenge in 2010. Here are a few highlights:
Community Outreach - We serve two communities, our local community of Talkeetna, Alaska and the international climbing community. This year, per usual, our operations relied heavily on the essential Volunteers In Parks (VIP) program, inviting climbers, medical professionals and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world to help our rangers keep the mountain clean and visitors safe. This season, we recruited locally and were fortunate to have a couple of VIPs from our own backyard of Talkeetna. We also sought VIPs from further afield with a newer piece of our outreach, the Sherpa Exchange, in which we host Nepali mountaineers who come to Denali seeking a better understanding of clean climbing practices and our search and rescue program. Whether a Himalayan Sherpa, a VIP from Ger-many, or a Talkeetna physician, we have found that each of these “community” members leave with a much better under-standing of the mission of the NPS and in doing so, become ambassadors for the stewardship of wild places around the world.
Education – Education has always been one of the cornerstones of our program, but this year several staff took the NPS educational message to new heights. Longtime Denali Ranger Roger Robinson put extraordinary effort into organizing and leading the international ‘Exit Strategies’ conference. On behalf of the NPS, Roger partnered with active supporters of clean climbing such as the American Alpine Club, the Access Fund, Leave No Trace and many others to bring together land managers, environmental experts, and academics from around the world to share ideas and find better ways to keep our special places pristine for future generations.
Science - This season staff assisted with various research projects in an effort to let science drive our decision-making as we strive to keep the mountain environment unimpaired for future climbers. We teamed up with Alaska Pacific University re-searchers to study the impact of human waste on our glaciated areas. One aspect of the study looked at glacial movement, while other researchers collected snow samples at camps along the West Buttress for later laboratory testing for human impacts. “Greening Up”- This year we did a number of things to help reduce the environmental impact of our operation, the most noticeable being the installation of 48 solar panels atop the Talkeetna Ranger Station. Our hope is that these solar panels will generate over 30% of our annual energy use at the ranger station. Another way that we “greened up” our operation is by changing the helicopter our program uses. The new A-Star B3 helicopter burns about 20% less fuel per hour than the former Lama, not only reducing our environmental impact but saving the program money. Furthermore, this winter we have re-vamped the way we conduct our mountain food purchasing and packaging in an effort to reduce, recycle and reuse.
With the ultimate goal of protecting both the magnificent resource and the visitor experience here at Denali, park staff is working hard this winter on several managerial issues with potential impacts for the future, the most contentious being a pro-posed mountaineering fee increase. A tough and complex issue, park managers seek to do what is best for all park visitors, while at the same time ensuring safety and keeping the mountaineering program intact. Denali is inviting public participation through meetings hosted in Talkeetna, Anchorage, Seattle and Denver. Another issue being addressed is an Environmental Assessment (EA) examining the ratio of private climbers to guided climbers on the mountain. Over the past decade we have seen the balance shift with an increase in the number of climbers wanting to experience Mt. McKinley with one of our six mountain guide con-cessions, while at the same time witnessing a gradual decline in private climbers. On a final note I wanted to take a minute and reflect on a friend that was lost this year. As mentioned, we continued our Sherpa Exchange program and had the pleasure to welcome two accomplished Sherpas to Denali in 2010. One of the men, Chhewang Nima Sherpa lost his life in an accident while working on a Baruntse expedition this autumn. Chhewang was a wonderful human being that brought skill, graciousness and a big smile to our program.
-- South District Ranger John Leonard
Colorado mountaineer Steve Van Meter got his first taste of Mt. McKinley in 1974 during a West Buttress climb at age 19, soon followed by an ascent of the Cassin Ridge in 1977. After taking a 33-year break from the Alaska Range, Van Meter returned to the West Buttress in June 2010, this time accompanied by his 20-year-old son Eric and friend Tom McConnell. Below, Van Meter shares some of his observations with Ranger Roger Robinson:
Hi Roger, sorry it has taken a month to get back to you with my thoughts/observations on comparing McKinley's West Buttress climb in 1974 with 2010. First of all, the thing that sticks out the most is the number of people on the West Buttress route in 2010 compared to 1974. When we climbed as a three-some in 1974, it was us, Ray Genet's guided team, a small team of members from the US military, a team from Japan, two women from Arizona, and a team of climbers from New Mexico/Estonia that were on the West Buttress. The number of climbers on the mountain when we were there was probably around 40. We climbed in the last two weeks of June and first week of July.
Of course much of our gear was different. Lots of wool clothing, wooden snow shoes, leather double boots (one member had the white mickey mouse boots), Kelty frame packs, and 60/40 cloth wind jackets and bibs. I do recall that climbers disposal of their human waste was not well organized. At times we encountered pits that were not dug very deep and often became exposed. Same would apply to trash; we encountered more trash on the mountain in 1974. We hardly noticed any trash in 2010. The use of the CMC's and education of climbers has made a significant difference in keeping the route clean of trash and human waste. There was also no ranger station set up at 14,200 like there is now. The only fixed rope on the entire climb was on the headwall above 14,200. In 1974, very few teams used sleds.
During our 1974 climb, we camped below Windy Corner in what is now called the Polo Fields at around 12,800. Many of the teams on the mountain camped here in addition to the camp at 11,200 (below Motorcycle Hill). During our 2010 climb, we did not see any of the teams camping in the Polo Fields. Because teams used the camp in the Polo Fields in 1974, there was no need for an equipment/food cache at 13,500. I compared some photos taken in 1974 to 2010 and noticed more exposed rocks at Windy Corner and above Denali Pass in 2010. Also, there appeared to be less snow on some of the ridges on Mt. Foraker, Mt. Crosson, Mt. Hunter and the Kahiltna Peaks in 2010. Less snow on Peters Glacier and the nearby ridges in the 2010 photo taken from above Motorcycle Hill. Felt like the route in 2010 was safer due to the use of snow pickets on the ridge leading to 17,200, the pickets placed leading up to Denali Pass, and the pickets on the final summit ridge. Plus the route was better marked on the Kahiltna Glacier. Great seeing you. My son enjoyed hearing us talk of old time climbs.
-- Steve Van Meter
Fatal Climbing Fall
A French mountaineer fell to his death near the top of Motorcycle Hill on the West Buttress route on May 16. The climber and his partner were unroped as they approached the feature known as ‘Lunch Rocks’ near 12,000 feet when he lost control of his sled. In an attempt to stop it from sliding over the ridge, the climber jumped on the sled but was unable to self-arrest and ultimately fell over 1,000 feet to a steep, crevassed section of the Peters Glacier. The park’s high altitude helicopter, which was in the vicinity on a re-supply flight when the radio distress call came in, flew to the site within minutes and determined the climber had fallen into a deep crevasse. An NPS ranger was soon short-hauled into the crevasse, and although he could not safely reach the climber, it was readily determined that the climber had not survived the long fall.
After reaching 17,200 feet on the West Buttress of Mount McKinley, a client on a guided expedition began to suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness. Despite medical intervention, his symptoms continued the following day and he began to show signs of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. At the request of his guide, NPS staff provided medical care and assistance with his descent. The patient’s condition persisted at the 14,200-foot camp, requiring continued medical care. He was evacuated by NPS helicopter to Talkeetna the following day and advised to seek further professional medical care.
After a rapid ascent to the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress of Denali, a climber began experiencing signs and symptoms of both High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Rangers were alerted to the climbers’ condition by the expedition team leader. The climber was treated at the 14,200-foot NPS medical tent and evacuated via helicopter to basecamp accompanied by a Volunteer in Parks (VIP) paramedic. From basecamp, the sick climber and his attendant flew to Talkeetna on a commercial fixed wing where he was released.
On May 26, 2010, a climber suffering from severe abdominal pain was air evacuated from the 7,800-foot camp on Denali’s West Buttress route because of a suspected kidney stone.
On May 26, a solo climber sustained an unroped fall of approximately 1,000 feet down the West Rib route of Mt. McKinley. The next day, NPS rangers flew to the scene in the high altitude helicopter and picked up the climber using a toe-in landing. He was assessed at basecamp by a NPS volunteer physician with only minor injuries, flown to Talkeetna, and released from NPS care.
Fatal Avalanche Accident
Two climbers were found dead at the base of a steep snow and ice gully in the Ruth Gorge, most likely swept and killed by a wet loose avalanche as they were descending their route. After being alerted to the incident by another climber in the area, NPS staff flew to the scene via helicopter and confirmed their deaths. Their bodies were recovered the following morning.
A climber began to experience signs and symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema after descending to high camp on Denali’s West Buttress on May 29. The climber was able to descend to the 17,200-foot camp under her own power, however due to fatigue, low oxygen saturation, and difficulty breathing, she required NPS help to go any further. After being rope-assisted to 14,200 feet, the climber was evacuated via the NPS helicopter to basecamp before being medically released.
After a rapid ascent to 14,200 feet on the West Buttress, a climber needed NPS medical assistance due to the effects of altitude illness. After treatment at the 14,200-foot camp, the patient’s condition resolved. She was released and advised to descend.
Fatal Climbing Fall
A Belgian climber died from a fall on the Cassin Ridge route of Mt. McKinley on June 7. His surviving partner was assisted off the route by another expedition and was rescued three days later by the NPS contract helicopter.
Acute Mountain Sickness
A guide presented to NPS rangers at the 17,200-foot camp with signs and symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness including a strong headache, persistent vomiting, nausea, and an inability to intake food or fluids. Upon administration of oxygen, IV fluids, and several high altitude medications over a 16-hour period, NPS rangers assisted the guide to 16,200 feet, from which point he was lowered and ski-evacuated to the 14,200-foot camp. The following day he was able to descend to basecamp under his own power and return to Talkeetna.
After a rapid ascent to 17,200 feet on the West Buttress, a climber became immobile due to the effects of altitude illness. At the request of his expedition members, NPS rangers provided medical care and performed a technical lowering. The patient’s condition improved at the 14,200-foot camp at which point he was released to the care of his fellow expedition members. He descended under his own power.
A client on a guided expedition suddenly began to experience moderate chest pain at his 11,200-foot camp. The expedition’s lead guide contacted NPS staff at the 7,200-foot camp and requested immediate assistance. The patient was evacuated via NPS helicopter and transferred to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center via LifeMed helicopter for more definitive cardiac care. Fractured Rib On June 28, a climber incurred a fractured rib when he fell while skiing from the base of the fixed lines on the West Buttress. Due to the potential for pneumothorax, the patient was air evacuated from the 14,200-foot ranger camp.
A solo climber was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp on July 7 after his erratic behavior and alarming statements revealed signs of mental illness and a likelihood of causing serious harm to himself or others. As it was deemed un-safe to transport a mentally unstable person within the small con-fined cabin of the park’s high altitude helicopter, Denali staff requested military assistance. An Army Chinook CH 47 helicop-ter from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade transported the individual , who was strapped and secured on backboard, directly back to their base at Ft. Wainwright. At that point, Alaska State Troopers took custody of the individual and transported him to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for evaluation.
During a guided ascent of the West Buttress, a client began to suffer from altitude illness at approximately 14,600 feet. After calling the NPS rangers, the lead guide of the expedition made the decision to escort the climber back down to the medical tent at the 14,200-foot camp. Upon continued treatment, evaluation, and monitoring of the patient by medical staff, the decision was made to fly the climber from 14,200-foot camp to basecamp where he was then released from care.
In 2010, 35 climbers were stricken with injuries or illnesses that required medical intervention by the NPS rangers and volunteers. Acute Mountain Sickness and non-cardiac medical problems (includes gastrointestinal distress, yeast infections, hemorrhoids, etc) together accounted for over one-half of the medical responses.
This year’s new route list is short and highlighted by climbs achieved carrying a minimal amount of gear. While researching for this article fellow ranger Mark Westman brought up an interesting idea “…the benefits of rest may increase the speed when moving to the point of compensating for the added weight that may slow one down.”
As climbers have been pushing the limits of how quickly they can accomplish major routes, both established and new, much of their focus has been on paring down on equipment carried so that they can travel more quickly in “single push” style. At the same time equipment manufacturers have been developing gear that is lighter. Westman points out that taking minimal gear to achieve some “quality” rest on route may enhance the overall speed of the ascent. Having this gear also provides some degree of safety over the bare bones style of single pushes. In the Alaska Range where rescue is notably more difficult than other more accessible ranges in the world this approach to speed climbing should, hope-fully, gain popularity.
In 2010 several new lines were completed in the Ruth Glacier area and one new route was accomplished on Mount Foraker. Renan Ozturk, Zack Smith and Freddie Wilkinson climbed “Swamp Donkey Express” (5.9+ A2+ plus some mixed climbing, 750m), on the south face of the Moose’s Tooth on May 17. This outing was characterized by loose rock which has prevented this side of the tooth from garnering more attention from rock climbers. The team persisted and was able to complete their ascent in less than a day utilizing the established descent on Ham and Eggs. Plans had been laid for a more adventuresome endeavor for which the Donkey route was to be a warm up, however Mother Nature denied further climbs on this trip.
The group of Japanese climbers known as the Giri-Giri Boys was represented this year by Ryo Masumoto, Takaai Nagato, and Kazuaki Amano. The trio continued the Giri-Giri tradition of warming up for a few weeks in the Ruth Gorge area. In April they climbed west face of Peak 7,400' and made a direct finish to a route previously climbed on the north face of Mt Church. Moving to the Kahiltna glacier in May, the team acclimated on the West Buttress prior to making an eighty hour climb of the Denali Diamond. Prior to returning home one more push was in order, so it was off to the North Buttress of Hunter where they climbed for 23 hours before rappelling off.
Back in the Ruth, John Frieh and Dylan Johnson climbed a new variation on Mt. Bradley that connected “Season of the Sun” with the East Buttress. This accomplishment epitomized another growing trend in the Alaska Range, that of short duration trips. This team accomplished their route on Bradley and then an ascent of the Ham and Eggs route during their 5 day visit to the Ruth.
The largest new route of the season was climbed on Mount Foraker. The international duo of Colin Haley and Bjorn-Eivind Artun climbed a previously unclimbed line to the left of the False Dawn and right of the French Ridge. Named Dracula, rated M6R AI4+ A0, the climb involved 10,400 feet of elevation gain on the southeast face of Mt. Foraker (17,400'). Haley and Artun spent a total of 37 days in the Alaska Range on this expedition. They acclimated by summiting Denali three times, twice via western routes and a third via the Cassin during which they came close to breaking the 15 hour speed record set by Mugs Stump in 1991. Their new route on Mount Foraker was climbed alpine style from June 13 to 15, following a wet week in base camp.
Westman’s insight into the question “How light is right?” comes from almost 20 years of Alaska Range experience. This year he and Jesse Huey made the fifth ascent of the Slovak route on the South Face of Denali.
Hindsight usually reveals decisions that could have been made better. The argument for speed being safety is often cited in defense of the “light is right” strategy for push style alpine climbing. It is important for climbers coming to the Alaska Range to take the time to understand the scale of their climbing objective and make strategic decisions based upon their ability, the route, and the possibility of inclement weather.
This year marks the twelfth season of the Mislow- Swanson Denali Pro Award program, which originated as a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) to honor mountaineers who demonstrated the highest standards in the sport for safety, self- sufficiency, assisting fellow mountaineers, exemplary performance in expedition behavior, and clean climbing. Formerly known simply as the Denali Pro Award, the name of the award program now honors the memory of mountaineers John Mislow and Andrew Swanson who died in a climbing fall on the West Rib in 2009. They had won the coveted award for exemplary climbing ethics during the 2000 climbing season. The Mislow and Swanson families worked with Denali National Park to create a special donation account for contributions to the Denali Pro program in honor of the two men.
At the end of the this year’s season, Denali National Park rangers selected Nancy Hansen, Felix Camire, and Doug Fulford as the 2010 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award winners. Doug, Nancy, and Felix began their climbing trip on Denali as if they were at the local crag. They climbed the lower West Rib to the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress, back down the 7,800-foot camp to retrieve a cache and then on to the summit via the West Buttress. Felix and Nancy went on to climb the Cassin via the Wickwire route.
Soon after their arrival at the 14,200-foot camp, a guide in camp fell victim to altitude problems at the 17,200-foot camp and needed assistance down. The trio quickly offered assistance to the NPS Rangers and were integral in the technical lowering of the patient from the top of the fixed lines at 16,200 feet.
On the Cassin, Nancy and Felix contacted a solo climber in the lower rock band who was exhausted and having difficulty finding his way. They offered to rope up with him and the three worked their way through the difficulties. As they progressed up the climb they continued to offer the occasional water or soup to the taxed soloist. After topping out on the Cassin, Felix and Nancy descended the West Buttress for the second time and returned to Talkeetna to meet up with Doug.
This team’s love for the challenge of the mountains and kindness was contagious to all of those whom they came in contact with. Their willingness to always lend a hand exemplifies the spirit of the mountains.
Longtime mountaineering ranger Roger Robinson, developer of the Clean Mountain Can program on Denali, served as Conference Chairperson for “Exit Strategies: Managing Human Waste in the Wild”. This international conference was hosted by the American Alpine Club at their facility in Golden, Colorado on July 30 - 31, 2010. 120 participants from 12 nations shared ideas and formulated solutions to human waste management in all realms of backcountry terrain. Topics included composting, alpine waste systems, pack-out systems, solar drying, and cat-holing.
Based on feedback from the event, Roger achieved much of what he set out to do with the conference. In a letter sent by the Director of Argentina’s National Parks Administration, Claudio Chehébar, the Argentine delegate “came back very impressed by the conference, its quality, and organization. The network that is taking shape — and in which we are eager to be part of — will be of tremendous value to backcountry areas all over the world, and especially for developing countries, where there is an acute need for this kind of cooperation.”Event sponsors included the National Park Service, U.S. Public Health Service, Bureau of Land Management, Alpine Club of Canada, Leave No Trace, U.S. Forest Service, American Mountain Guides Association, Outward Bound, the American Hiking society, the Access Fund, and the American Alpine Club.
For the second year in a row, Denali National Park was excited to host volunteer mountaineering rangers from the Mount Everest mountain climbing community. This season Denali hosted Chhewang Nima Sherpa and Mingma Tsering Sherpa, both professional Himalayan guides from the Khumbu region of Nepal. Both arrived in Talkeetna for their Denali volunteer patrol within days of getting off Everest expeditions. Between the two men, they had 31 successful Everest summits under their belt.
At Denali, both Chhewang and Mingma served on a 30-day high mountain ranger patrol, working and training with NPS rangers Dave Weber, Joe Reichert, and other patrol volunteers to further develop technical rope rescue skills, emergency medical response, and ‘clean climbing’ techniques to put to use in a professional capacity back home in the Himalaya.
Two key partners have helped make these back-to-back Nepali educational exchanges possible. The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF) based in Bozeman, Montana founded the Khumbu Climbing School in 2004 with a mission to improve safety and professionalize the high altitude operations in Nepal. In 2010, another major contributor to the exchange program was one of Denali National Park’s mountain guide concessions, Al-pine Ascents International. Alpine Ascents has worked with both Chhewang and Mingma on many mountaineering expeditions in the Himalaya. Sadly, park staff learned that Chhewang died in a climbing accident on October 23 while working in the Himalaya.
On October 18, 2010, President Obama signed legislation honoring the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens by designating the 13,895-foot unnamed southern peak of Mount Hunter as “Mount Stevens”. Also part of the legislation, a 8,340-square mile icefield in the Chugach National Forest now bears the name “Ted Stevens Icefield”. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska introduced the legislation to name the peak and icefield after Stevens. Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator in history, represented the State of Alaska from December 1968 to January 2009. During his tenure he played key roles in Alaskan legislation including the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Stevens died in an airplane crash near Dillingham, Alaska on August 9, 2010 while flying as a passenger to a private lodge.
In an excerpt from a speech by Vic Knox, Deputy Director for the Alaska Region of the NPS, during the Ted Stevens Day dedication ceremony, “Mount Stevens is rarely climbed. It stands as a difficult task, one where solitude is to be expected and where self reliance and a high degree of talent are expected. Those qualities remind us of the Senator himself. Not the tallest, but among the toughest, self-reliant and talented throughout his remarkable life. And it is appropriate that Mount Stevens be high in the Alaska Range, in Denali National Park – itself an icon for Alaska. The Senator was a great supporter of national parks. As is expected across a career as long as his, there were disagreements on particular issues, but by and by the Senator and those of us proud to wear the uniform shared the belief in the mission of the national parks in Alaska: that there would be large tracts of wild land protected from the changes of human development, but open to the enjoyment by all generations, present and future.”
Rest In Peace Chhewang Nima Sherpa
From a letter sent to fellow staff by Denali mountaineering ranger Dave Weber in October 2010:
“It is with a heavy heart that I deliver some sad news. Chhewang Nima Sherpa was killed on October 23rd while climbing Mount Baruntse in Nepal. Sources point to a cornice collapse as the cause of the accident as opposed to the avalanche that was initially reported. The accident occurred at approximately 23,000 feet while Chhewang was fixing ropes for his clients in preparation for their push toward the 23,400 foot summit. Thankfully the other guide that was working with Chhewang was unharmed during the collapse.
I have spent the time since this tragedy reminiscing with friends and sorting through pictures from last summer. Count-less stories have been retold about this amazing man. A reoccuring theme was his love of false summit photographs. It seemed like once a day he wanted me to take a picture of him posing on some non-existent summit simply for the sake of laughter. Whether it was the crevasses above basecamp, 9200 camp in a whiteout, or the bus-sized ice block by 14200 camp; it didn't seem to matter to this Himalayan superstar that we were nowhere near a peak. Rest In Peace Chhewang Nima Sherpa 2010…”
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2011
As I look back on the 2011 climbing season, I can’t help but feel like I am writing one of those family Christmas cards that echo the year’s activities, achievements, and hardships. Perhaps it’s the fact that I have yet again put off writing this until moments before leaving town for the holidays. However, the more I reflect, the more it feels like the events of last year brought the Talkeetna Ranger Station staff, climbers, their families, concessionaires, and the various climbing organizations closer together. Like a family, we faced the occasional squabble, but together we worked through tragedies and celebrated our combined accomplishments.
To begin, 2011 was a very tough year. A total of nine climbers died, making it the third deadliest season in the Alaska Range. The impacts of these losses are not something that can be put into words. To those who lost friends and loved ones, please accept our sincerest condolences. Along with the tragedies came several examples of personal heroics that, without question, saved lives. Three people in particular whose actions made the difference are Pararescueman Sgt. Bobby Schnell, AMS mountain guide Pat Ormond, and helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky. Sgt. Schnell’s used a small razor blade to perform a high altitude, life-saving emergency tracheotomy in the middle of the night at the 17,200-foot camp, enabling a dying climber to cling to life; guide Pat Ormond went out in the worst of conditions to help an ailing climber back to high camp after just completing a long summit day himself; and Andy Hermansky, time and time again, skillfully piloted the NPS helicopter to the upper reaches of Denali to pluck climbers off the mountain who would have otherwise perished, including the highest helicopter rescue in North American history.
Last year was full of activity on several policy issues. After years of public engagement, a decision was reached to increase the climbing fee from $200 to $350 ($250 for age 24 & under). Though it was a difficult process that at times put the NPS at odds with members of the climbing community, the increased revenue will help sustain our program at necessary levels, particularly at a time when NPS operating budgets are shrinking. We are grateful to the American Alpine Club, the Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guides Association who worked closely with us to help guide the process and build consensus around what was a once a highly contentious issue. These groups exhibited that we share a set of values, namely the protection, conservation, and enjoyment of our nation’s public lands. Guided climbing has become increasingly popular over the last decade, and in response to shifting demand, the park embarked on a process that could allow for an increase in the amount of commercial guiding on Denali. The 2006 Denali Backcountry Management Plan (BCMP) currently limits guided activities to 25% of allowable use. When the BCMP went into effect, restrictions on commercial use in wilderness areas had strong public support, including from the climbing community. Nevertheless, over time, the NPS has worked closely and successfully with mountain guides to help keep people safe and the mountain clean, and thus many question why the park would limit guiding on Denali.
Others also believe that a ‘climber is a climber’, whether they are guided or independent. Finding a solution is not easy, as we value the opportunity for people to experience Denali, whether guided or independent, but at the same time we feel strongly that Denali not become a place like many of the other seven summits where wilderness values and self-reliance ostensibly cease to exist. We continued to find ways to make our operation more fiscally and environmentally sustainable. The new solar panels at the Ranger Station generated enough energy in 2011 to power 237 homes and offset almost five tons of carbon, the equivalent of planting 127 trees. In 2012, one new change will be a heater at Basecamp that will recycle the unused fuel from climbers to heat our camp instead of propane. Not only will it lower our propane costs, it will reduce the need to fly propane tanks onto the mountain and unused fuel back to Talkeetna.
In closing, I would like to recognize one last group of people. Led by Capt. David Olson (USN) with the assistance of Alaska Mountaineering School, the team included four Combat Wounded Veterans: AOCM Will Wilson (USN), SOC Seal John Cummings (USN), LT. Justin Legg (USAR), and SSGT Vic Thibeault (USAR). These wounded soldiers exemplified the highest levels of courage and determination in honor of their fallen comrades and their families. Not only were we honored and inspired to be able to spend time with this group, we had a lot of fun along the way.
- South District Ranger John Leonard
This season, 1,232 climbers attempted Denali, a number consistent with the last handful of years and, in fact, the same number of climbers that attempted the mountain in 2002. Climbing activities in the Alaska Range also reflect this consistency, with quite a few parties exploring new routes and attempting to repeat established ones in a different, notable fashion. In 2011, there were significant variations climbed on each of the three prominent massifs, Mount McKinley, Foraker and Hunter. There were also new routes climbed on Mount Barrille and West Kahiltna Peak. The ‘routes’ described on the three largest peaks fit the general definition of ‘a traveled way’ or established way of travel between two points, while the ‘routes’ on the smaller summits more closely fit the traditional mountaineering definition of the term in which the route finishes at the summit of the intended peak.
On Denali, Marty Schmidt and his son, Denali Schmidt, crowned a five week visit to the range by climbing the “Dad and Son” route which ascends the prominent buttress to the left of the West Rim route. Beginning from the entrance of the North East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, it rejoins the West Buttress route near Windy Corner. They found the climbing difficulty to be WI5, 5.10, A2 and completed the ascent in a 29 hour push from their camp in the North East Fork. The rock sections provided a change in pace from their climbing on Foraker’s Sultana route as well as the snowy north and south summits that they had visited in May. The duo had a remarkable trip for Denali’s first foray into the range and Marty’s umpteenth.
On the Foraker massif’s Point 12,213’ (located on south ridge of The Fin) Graham Zimmerman and Mark Allen climbed a route that they dubbed “To the Center” on May 26. They discovered Alaska Grade 4, AI 2 difficulties on their climb which was accomplished from a base camp established well away from the popular Alaska Range venues on the upper reaches of the Lacuna Glacier. The climb was their third attempt on the Foraker satellite peak which requires a 15 mile approach over a couple of passes from the Kahiltna Base Camp.
The North Buttress on Mount Hunter received a new line in May by British climbers Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker. Six days were spent climbing to the left of the Bibler-Klewin (Moonflower) and right of the Wall of Shadows. The team employed a port-a-ledge on the notoriously unrelenting buttress. From their highest camp, they made a 36-hour push to the top of the buttress via the top 13 pitches of the Bibler-Klewin where they decided to turn around. Dubbed “The Cartwright Connection”, Alaska Grade 6, M6, AI 6, 5.8, A2 this route is a significant variation to the original “Moonflower” route.Just off of the Kahiltna Glacier, every West Buttress ascensionist looks at the west ridge of West Kahiltna Peak as they make their home at Camp One. On May 23, two Italians, Diego Giovannini and Fabio Meraldi, ascended the ridge and reported finding 75 degree ice and 5.8 rock climbing on the Grade 4 route. Their climb ascends the obvious west ridge of West Kahiltna Peak (ridge closest to the North East Fork of the Kahiltna). Such an obvious feature might have been climbed previously, but there are no recorded ascents prior to this one. It is believed that Japanese climbers Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue may have climbed this line in 2008 while traversing West and East Kahiltna Peaks before they proceeded up the Cassin Ridge. However, Yamada and Inoue perished near the summit of Denali, and as their friends could not confirm which line they ascended, the truth may never be known. For now, the Italians’ feat stands as the first recorded ascent. Meraldi and Giovannini reported moderate and enjoyable climbing difficulties, but reported the final section of the ridge to be dangerously threatened by an overhanging serac. They descended the same route by down-climbing and rappelling.
In the Ruth Gorge, Mount Barrille was climbed by a new route on May 13 when Americans Ben Gilmore and Hans Johnstone made a 12-hour trip from the bergschrund up to the summit and back down the other side to the Mountain House. Their route climbs a line on the northeast face of Barrille and was reported as “destined to be a classic”. Primarily an ice and mixed climbing challenge, the route ascends mixed terrain with a few key traverses and gains the Northeast Ridge for the final part to the summit. Descent was made by the northwest slopes to the Mountain House. The note that the climbers left at the ranger station named the route “Alaska Primer”, grade IV, 5.9+ Mixed, WI 5R. Of other significant accomplishments in the Range this season, Andreas Fransson from Sweden completed the first ski descent of the South Face of Denali on May 23, a fantastic statement of one person’s courage to challenge himself in the mountains. As a movie is sometimes worth a thousand words, take a look at Andreas’ account here: http://vimeo.com/29250081. On Mount Huntington, the Phantom Wall’s original route nearly saw its second ascent. In late April, Jared Vilhauer and Tim Dittman made it through most of the route’s difficulties, but at their high bivouac, Vilhauer became ill with the flu, and the team was forced to retreat.In the speed category, the Cassin Ridge was climbed from the bergschrund to Kahiltna Horn in 14 hours, 40 minutes, by British climbers Will Sim and Jonathan Griffith. On Mount Hunter, Colin Haley and Nils Nielsen made an extraordinarily fast ascent of the north buttress of Hunter, climbing the Deprivation route to the top of the buttress in 9 hours. They were caught by a storm atop the buttress and were unable to complete the route to Hunter’s summit. The Korean team of Sukmun Choi, Heeyong Park, and Jongil Park was the only team to reach the summit of Hunter by way of the north buttress this season, with their mid-May ascent of the Bibler-Klewin route.
The search and rescue missions performed by Denali rangers in 2011 are summarized below. For more detailed information on these and other mountaineering missions performed in 2011, refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering-2012, published by the American Alpine Club.
Fatal Avalanche in Root Canal
Five members of two guided groups were hit by an icefall (serac) avalanche while camped on the Root Canal Glacier below the south face of the Moose’s Tooth in the Ruth Gorge. All five were blown out of their tents, partially buried, and their gear scattered by the force of the blast. The NPS received the distress call in the early hours of April 28 and flew to the site at first morning light. Rangers determined that one of the climbers had succumbed to traumatic injuries incurred in the avalanche.
Fall at Pig Hill, Fatality
Fatal Fall on Autobahn
Three climbers left high camp unroped for a summit bid on May 16. Weather began to deteriorate above Denali Pass and the team made the decision to turn around near Zebra Rocks at 18,500 feet. For the descent, two of the climbers roped up to each other, while the third climber chose not to. The three climbers then began their descent of the Autobahn with the two roped climbers going first, and the third, unroped climber following behind. Shortly thereafter, the team of two heard the third climber calling their names and turned around to see him sliding, unable to self arrest, down the slope leading to the Upper Peters Glacier. An NPS patrol witnessed the fall from high camp and responded to the fallen climber’s location, approximately 1,400 feet from where he fell near Denali Pass. A paramedic on the patrol pronounced the climber dead at the scene and his body was recovered from high camp two days later.
Mount Frances Fatalities
On May 23, two climbers were reported overdue from an attempt to climb Mount Frances when they did not returned to the Kahiltna basecamp as planned. In response, NPS rangers flew a reconnaissance mission and spot-ted dark shapes in what appeared to be avalanche debris at the bottom of a significant gully on the west side of Mount Frances. Upon landing near the location, rangers uncovered the bodies of the two missing climbers and determined that they had either been swept off of the face by an avalanche or had fallen from a point high on their climbing route. Both were deceased and had suffered significant trauma associated with a long fall in complex terrain. Both bodies were recovered.
Fatal Fall on Autobahn
Late in the day on May 25, a guided group of four (three climbers and one guide) fell while descending the Autobahn just below Denali Pass at 18,200 feet. According to reports by the two surviving team members, the team had started their descent with the guide at the rear of the rope and the three climbers in front. The climber leading the way down was having difficulty locating the fixed anchors to clip their climbing rope into for protection; thus, the guide made the decision to reverse the order of the rope team and descend first with the three climbers following. Shortly after resuming the descent from Denali Pass, one of the climbers fell and the team was not able to arrest their fall, which continued to the bottom of the slope on the Upper Peters Glacier some 1,400 feet below. The guide and one client perished, while the other two clients survived with significant injuries. NPS rangers, a large contingent of volunteers, and Air National Guard Pararescuemen at high camp responded and undertook significant measures to save the life of one of the climbers, including an emergency tracheotomy.
Three Cases of Altitude Illness on Summit Day
An NPS climbing ranger and four volunteers were descending from the summit of Denali and came across a solo climber who was ataxic and appeared to be suffering from altitude illness. The patrol determined that the soloist was unable to descend under his own power and required a rescue. While they were attending to this climber and making arrangements for an air evacuation, another climber approached their location and collapsed into the snow face first. Medically trained volunteers made a rapid assessment of this patient and likewise determined that he was suffering from altitude illness and could not descend under his own power. The NPS team was able to evacuate these climbers by attaching them to a short haul line on the NPS helicopter via a “screamer suit” and they were flown to base camp. The NPS patrol members then continued their descent, but were soon notified via radio of a third climber in distress near the 18,700-foot level on the upper mountain. They quickly descended to this location and determined that yet again, the climber was suffering from altitude illness and could not descend. The third climber was also evacuated via short haul to base camp and transferred to an air ambulance.
Cardiac Event on the Lower Kahiltna
On June 7, an NPS mountaineering patrol encountered a climber at approximately 7,000 feet on the lower Kahiltna Glacier who was experiencing significant chest pain and labored breathing. The patient initially declined medical treatment, but after consultation with medical personnel, consented to treatment and he was evacuated via air ambulance from his location on the glacier.
Fatal Cardiac Arrest at High Camp
A 51-year old male went into sudden cardiac arrest in his tent at high camp on June 10 after climbing to the summit of Denali earlier that day. The team that he had climbed to the summit with later reported that the climber had suffered from altitude illness to the point of vomiting several times, stumbling, and losing his footing while descending to high camp. Upon his arrival at high camp, his climbing companions suggested that he check in with NPS rangers at high camp but the climber stated that he felt fine and would prefer to take a nap. He entered the tent he was sharing with two other climbers, and they reported he fell asleep quickly and immediately exhibited “Cheyne-Stokes” respirations. Shortly thereafter, they did not hear any breathing sounds and they opened his sleeping bag to find him unresponsive and not breathing. The tent mates notified NPS rangers who initiated CPR which was terminated after 30 minutes without finding signs of a pulse. After conferring with the NPS medical director, the climber was pronounced dead. Poor weather delayed recovery of his body until June 16.
Altitude Illness at 14,200 feet
A client on a guided expedition began to display symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), including a persistent headache, shortness of breath, elevated pulse and respirations, a productive cough, and wet lung sounds. He received medical treatment at the 14,200 foot camp. His condition improved over time and he was eventually able to rejoin his team and descend under his own power.
Solo Climber Search and Recovery
On the evening of June 28, a guided group at high camp contacted NPS rangers at the 14,200-foot camp via radio to report that a solo climber had been on the upper mountain for over 24 hours and had not yet returned to his tent at high camp. NPS rangers notified Talkeetna personnel of the potential need for a search and rescue operation which, due to weather and time of day, could not commence until the morning. The climber was last seen ascending from high camp to Denali Pass. There were no other climbing parties on the upper mountain at this time. The NPS launched a full scale search via ground and air. During the second day of the search, NPS rangers at the 14,200-foot camp spotted what appeared to be a body at the base of a long gully below the summit plateau known as the Orient Express. The NPS helicopter with a ranger on board flew to the site and confirmed that it did appear to be a body with clothing matching the description of that of the missing climber. Rangers and volunteers at the 14,200-foot camp climbed to the site and confirmed the identity of the missing climber, then recovered his remains. Events leading up to the climbers fall and death are not known, though it was discovered that he had left his backpack and skis at a point close to the entrance to the Orient Couloir.
Windy Corner Altitude Illness
During a gradual ascent as part of a guided group on the West Buttress, a climber, perhaps secondary to a respiratory infection and possible altitude illness, be-came too fatigued to continue his ascent to the 14,200-foot camp. At the request of his guides, NPS rangers and volunteers responded and provided medical care and transported the climber to the 14,200-foot camp. Over the course of three days of treatment, the climber’s condition improved to the point that he was able to descend under his own power with assistance from his team.
Altitude Illness at Browne’s Tower
In an attempt of the Muldrow Glacier route on Denali’s north side, a two member team made a rapid ascent from Wonder Lake to approximately 14,900-feet below a feature known as Browne’s Tower. One of the team members started to feel symptoms of altitude illness during his first day at camp, and his partner contacted an NPS team at an adjacent camp the following day. Upon medical assessment, the NPS team concluded that the patient’s condition warranted an immediate evacuation. The level of oxygen in his blood was measured to be approximately 35% and he was displaying signs of severely reduced mental and physical capabilities, indicating the onset of serious altitude illness. The climber was evacuated via the NPS helicopter and loaded internally from a landing spot the NPS team cut from the snow on Karsten’s Ridge.
Chest Pain at Windy Corner
During a gradual ascent of the West Buttress, a guided climber began experiencing chest pain while at rest. At the request of his guides, NPS rangers and volunteers responded to his location near Windy Corner at 13,500-feet and provided initial medical care and then transport to the 14,200-foot camp. His condition did not improve over two days of treatment and the climber was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp via NPS helicopter.
In 2011, 36 climbers were stricken with injuries or illnesses that required medical intervention by the NPS rangers and volunteers. Cold injuries and non-cardiac medical problems (includes respiratory infections, gastrointestinal distress, yeast infections, etc) each accounted for roughly one-quarter of the medical responses.
The Denali mountaineering ranger staff selected Sgt. Bobby Schnell as the recipient of the 2011 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. Bobby, an Anchorage-based Air National Guard Pararescueman from the 212th Rescue Squadron, was a team member on a Dutch-American military expedition. While climbers with medical and rescue expertise are frequently called on to help others while climbing Denali, few circumstances compare to the incredible efforts of Bobby and his team.
While his team was acclimatizing at the 14,200-foot camp, Bobby assisted rangers with the patient care of multiple sick climbers. Bobby volunteered his medical skills, starting IV fluids for a climber suffering from altitude sickness and dehydration. Throughout the climb, Bobby always made himself available to help.
On the night of May 25, a climbing team sustained a 1,400-foot fall from Denali Pass. Bobby joined the initial response as a rescue team leader, using his extensive rescue training as a paramedic to triage the four fallen climbers, finding that two had died in the fall and two were critically injured. In the demanding environment at 17,200 feet, not to mention sub zero temperatures, Bobby performed a lifesaving “cricothyrotomy”, a surgical technique to insert a breathing tube into the trachea of the critically injured climber. Bobby led the efforts to maintain the patient’s breathing, administer drugs, and keep the patient stable through the night until a helicopter evacuation could occur the next morning. Without the efforts of Bobby, James Mohr would have died from his injuries. Bobby’s willingness to help others exemplifies the spirit of the Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. The rangers are honored to recognize Bobby for his exceptional service to others and his life-saving actions.
Group nomination for the rescue party that assisted during the fatal accident at Denali Pass on May 25, including: Pararescuemen Bobby Schnell, Matt Kirby, Jay Casello, and 12 other members of their US/Dutch military expedition; independent climbers Max Talsky, Jacon Mayer, and Alex Sargent; and Mountain Trip Guides Mike Burmeister, Adam Smith, and Eric Gullickson. During the same incident in which Denali Pro Award Winner Bobby Schnell performed the high elevation tracheotomy, the nominees listed above, upon request from the NPS ranger at high camp, enthusiastically joined the rescue effort. Each of the nominees played an instrumental role in the rescue effort providing strength, technical rigging, medical skills, warm clothing, rescue equipment, and medical supplies. Most importantly they placed the lives of others above their own summit ambitions. The entire rescue party worked through the night until a helicopter was able to evacuate the injured climbers to Anchorage hospitals.
Two brothers, Britten and Brooks Russell, were nominated for the 2011 Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro award for their exemplary mountain behavior and attempt to save the life of Brian Young, a cardiac victim who died at high camp on June 10. When Young initially arrived at the 17,200-foot camp without a tent, Britten and Brooks selflessly offered a sleeping space in their tent. Then, right after Young’s 19-hour summit push, he woke Britten and Brooks to ask if he could climb into their tent for some rest. Moments after lying down, Young stopped breathing. Britten and Brooks attempted to wake him but he remained unresponsive. They alerted NPS rangers, and without hesitation they assisted with CPR efforts. Despite the quick response, Young could not be revived. The Russell brothers were strong and well-prepared for the many challenges mountaineers face climbing Denali, allowing them to help when help was needed.
Aaron Divine, Brian Kasavana, and John Stoddard, three instructors on a 2011 NOLS Muldrow Glacier climb -- in addition to demonstrating exemplary mountain stewardship including excellent cache management, trash removal, and human waste management -- were proactive and selfless in their assistance to NPS during an incident at 14,600-feet near Browne’s Tower. When a Russian climber became ill with high altitude cerebral and pulmonary edema and required NPS intervention, these three instructors donated medical equipment, supplies, and rescue gear to assist the ailing climber. Preserving the unique wilderness of Denali and serving the climbers who come to climb it is the aim of the Talkeetna Ranger staff; Aaron, Brian, and John clearly understand this goal and worked to help the NPS achieve it.
During the early morning hours of May 12, after returning to the 17,200-foot camp after a long summit day Alaska Mountaineering School Guide Pat Ormond went above and beyond to help save the lives of members of another group who had become separated from their guide high on the mountain. While helping coordinate rescue efforts with the NPS, Ormond noticed what he believed to be a climber struggling down from Denali Pass. Knowing that the climber would have little chance to make it back to camp by himself, Ormond went out in very high winds, extreme cold temperatures, and white out conditions to safely retrieve the struggling climber. Throughout the entirety of the rescue efforts, which lasted over 24-hours, Ormond took care of the survivors of the other team and helped coordinate rescue efforts all while keeping his clients safe and happy.
Enormous thanks go out to the Temsco Helicopter team for a safe and action-packed search and rescue (SAR) season on Denali. Not counting any routine re-supply flights to the range, A-Star B3 pilot Andy Hermansky, supported by mechanic Kirt Petterson, flew 18 SAR-related missions to the upper mountain, including a record short-haul rescue of a severely injured climber at 19,500 feet.
Since 2010, Denali National Park and Preserve has had a 120-day contract with Temsco Helicopters for the invaluable A-Star B3 helicopter and its crew, including Hermansky, Petterson, and backup pilot Scott Yukimura. Below is a quick summary of this year’s SAR helicopter missions:
Short-haul (External ‘Live’ Loads)
Evacuations (Internal Loads)
Grid Search Flights
Over 6 hours between 16,000 and 20,320 feet
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2012
With little fanfare, Denali’s summit was reached for the twenty-thousandth time during the 2012 climbing season. Such little fanfare, in fact, it was not even realized until long after the last climber had flown from the mountain. Seems that such a milestone would not go unnoticed, how-ever after some thought, it makes sense, being what we do, and should do, is to celebrate the journey and the style in which that journey was accomplished. Sometimes the jour-ney includes reaching a summit, sometimes it does not. Either way, the true success is not simply measured by what altitude is reached. One such example, commemorated this year, was the 1912 expedition led by Belmore Browne. Browne and his team set out from Seward, Alaska in the winter of 1912 by dog-sled with the hope to become first expedition to reach the summit of North America. After months of traveling across Alaska and experiencing all it had to offer, and then climbing to within 125 feet of the pinnacle of the continent, Browne and his partner, Herschel Parker, turned back after deciding that weather conditions would not allow them to go further. What their fate would have been had they made a decision to push further, we will never know. However we do know that they eventually made it home safely, and just a couple of years later, Browne became instrumental in the creation of what would become Denali National Park and Preserve – in many minds, a legacy much more memorable and long-lasting than being first to the top.
A little closer to home for many here at Denali, this year we also remembered the sacrifices of a some of our own who lost their lives while working to protect both park re-sources and visitors. In 1999, ranger Cale Shaffer and volunteers Brian Reagan and Adam Kolff were aboard a small aircraft with pilot Don Bowers, heading into basecamp to start a mountaineering patrol. Their plane crashed in a sudden storm, tragically claiming the lives of all four men. This year, park staff petitioned the Director of the National Park Service to officially name the park’s new ranger and fire headquarters facility the “Shaffer Building”. The effort was undertaken to recognize the way in which Cale Shaffer worked to serve park visitors, protect park resources and inspire co-workers to do the same; the building name also helps insure that those who come after us never forget the sacrifices of Brian, Adam, Cale, and their families.
Looking forward to 2013, we will be commemorating the centennial anniversary of the first summit of Denali. A large part of the commemoration will involve a conference held in Talkeetna in mid-September. The “Sustainable Summits” conference is being planned and organized by a partnership that includes the American Alpine Club and Denali National Park with help from other supporting organizations. We hope that working together, we can find sustainable long term solutions to help secure another hundred years of climbing, on mountains around the world and at home here at Denali. Hope to see you in Talkeetna this fall.
-John Leonard, South District Ranger
Mountaineering rangers, volunteer physicians, and volunteer medical technicians treated a rather typical variety of ailments and injuries in 2012. Of the 34 patients that required or requested some level of NPS medical intervention, 9 cases (26% of total) fell into the ‘Medical Other’ category, which included appendicitis, cysts, broken tooth, abscess, and other assorted medical ailments. Eight climbers were treated for cold-related injuries, and another eight were treated for altitude sickness including HACE, HAPE, and AMS. Seven patients were treated for some degree of trauma, including injured knees, ankles, and skin abrasions. The NPS patrols responded to only two cardiac patients, slightly fewer than usual.
The search and rescue missions performed by Denali rangers in 2012 are summarized below. For more detailed information on these and other mountaineering missions performed in 2012, refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering-2013, published by the American Alpine Club.
A climber suffered head injuries after his rappel anchor failed while climbing the “Shaken Not Stirred” route on the Moose’s Tooth. With timely assis-tance provided by a nearby climbing team, the semi-conscious climber was rescued from the Root Canal glaci-er by the military in the early morning hours of April 21.
Fatal Climbing Fall
On May 18, a climber fell to his death from 16,200 feet on the West Buttress. According to a witness report, the unroped climber jumped after his tumbling backpack and then could not arrest his fall. The Park’s helicopter transported rangers to the accident site to confirm the death and complete a body recovery.
Fatal Skiing Fall
A climber died from traumatic injuries incurred in a 2,000-foot fall during a ski descent of the Orient Express Couloir on May 23. NPS personnel recovered his body from a crevasse at 15,850 feet, which was then flown off the mountain via helicopter.
A climber injured his knee while skiing on the Kahiltna Glacier on May 25. The climber was assisted from 10,400-feet back to the Kahiltna Basecamp by three separate teams of NPS rangers.
On May 28, a climber was lowered from high camp to the 14,200-foot level by two teams of NPS rangers following an ankle injury. Thereafter, the injured climber continued his descent under his own power with help from teammates.
At the 14,200-foot camp on Denali, NPS rangers responded to a client from a guided expedition who was complaining of chest pain, fatigue and tingling hands on May 27. He was transported to the ranger medi-cal tent and subsequently evacuated by helicopter.
Aircraft Mishap (RCC-Assist)
On the evening of May 27, at the request of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), the park’s helicopter pilot and two rangers retrieved a fixed wing pilot who had to make an emergency landing in the neighboring Talkeetna Mountains. The pilot of the downed aircraft was uninjured in the landing.
A client from a guided expedition injured his calf muscle on May 29 while ascending the fixed lines at 16,400-feet. His guides assisted him in descending the fixed lines, from which point NPS volunteers transported him by cascade litter to the medical camp at 14,200-feet. The patient was monitored by the NPS volunteer medic for several days, during which time his condition did not improve and he remained unable to bear any weight on the leg. He was flown out to by helicopter on June 2.
On June 3, after an attempt to move to the 17,200-foot camp, a guide was brought to the NPS medical tent at 14,200-feet complaining of extreme weakness, fatigue, headache, ataxia, and nausea. NPS volunteer medics treated the patient for HACE. Over the next 48 hours, the patient's condition showed little or no improvement. Due to the potentially life-threatening nature of the illness, the patient was evacuated by the park helicopter on June 5.
Avalanche with Injuries
On June 12, a four-person rope team triggered an avalanche and was swept a short distance while traveling just below the fixed-lines area on Denali's West Buttress (approximately 15,400 feet). The four climbers suffered a variety of non-life threatening, but immobilizing injuries. After 48 hours, with no medical improvement in their condition, three of the four climbers were evacuated via park helicopter.
Avalanche, with Fatalities
An avalanche at Motorcycle Hill (11,200-feet) on the West Buttress during the early morning hours of June 14 claimed the lives of four climbers. One additional teammate survived the avalanche and was able to climb out of the crevasse in which the five-person rope team had landed. The four deceased climbers were buried under heavily compacted ice and snow debris, and were unable to be recovered safely.
On June 16, a climber descending from the summit began experiencing signs and symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Unable to descend under his own power below Denali Pass (18,200-feet), his guides lowered him to approximately 17,400-feet, at which point an NPS patrol responded to the team's request for help. The patient was brought into high camp and provided medical assistance, but with no improvement after 14 hours of medical care, the patient was evacuated from 17,200-foot camp via the park helicopter.
A guided client came down with HAPE at the 14,200-foot camp on June 25. He was treated for several days with only mild improvements, and his team assisted him down the mountain while he remained on oxygen.
On July 3, a guided client began displaying signs and symptoms of appendicitis at the 11,200-foot camp during the team’s ascent of the West Buttress. An NPS ranger patrol responded to his location and assisted him to a landing site near 10,000 feet. The patient was flown off of the mountain via park helicopter and transferred to a waiting air ambulance.
Aircraft Mishap (RCC Assist)
On July 7, the park’s helicopter responded to a request from the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) to rescue the pilot and passengers of a scenic flight who had to make an emergency off-airport landing near Broad Pass. One of the passengers had accidentally shut off the airplanes fuel supply while in mid-flight. No one was injured in the emergency landing.
An instructor pilot and his student activated a personal locator beacon on July 21 after their airplane flipped over on an aborted take-off in the southwestern portion of Denali National Preserve near the Yentna River. The RCC launched a military helicopter which picked up the two uninjured passengers and transported them to the Talkeetna State Airport.
Avalanche with Injuries
A team of three late season climbers set off an avalanche above the 17,200-foot high camp on Denali's West Buttress route on July 25. They attempted to rest and deal with their injuries for several days after the event, however they eventually contacted a flightseeing aircraft via radio to request an NPS rescue. The park helicopter shorthauled the three climbers to the Kahiltna Glacier and transferred them to a LifeMed ambulance.
To mitigate the impacts of climbers on backcountry resources, the National Park Service establishes standards for human waste disposal. Beginning in 2007, removal of human waste via Clean Mountain Cans (CMCs) became mandatory above the 14,200-foot camp, as well as near the airstrip at Basecamp (7,200-feet). Use of these CMCs, with biodegradable bag liners, has radically improved sanitation at the 17,200-foot high camp. However, most bags of human waste collected in CMCs at all elevations—including at 14,200-foot camp, where climbers spend the majority of their time acclimatizing and waiting for good weather—are thrown into crevasses between Basecamp and 14,200-foot Camp.
Since Bradford Washburn’s first ascent of the West Buttress route in 1951, the number of climbers has increased from less than 500 per year prior to 1980 to about 1,200 per year. Climbing parties spend an average of 18 days on the mountain. The math is simple and impressive: depending on the average weight of each climber’s daily fecal output—between 0.23 and 0.35 lbs (106 and 159 g), more than 36,000 climbers have deposited between 152,000 and 215,000 lbs (69 to 97 metric tons) of human waste on the Kahiltna Glacier. For now, the snowy surface of the Kahiltna Glacier remains fairly clean, because climbers follow NPS regulations and dispose of their human waste in CMCs and then in deep crevasses. But there is another factor at work—the glacier itself.
Glaciers form in an accumulation zone where annual snowfall exceeds annual melt. The accumulated perennial snows eventually change to glacier ice and flow downhill until melt exceeds snow-fall—at what is known as the ablation zone—at lower elevations. Because the West Buttress is located in the accumulation zone of the Kahiltna Glacier, crevassed waste will be buried the next winter and ever more deeply each successive year. However, each year the glacier flows and slowly carries the waste downhill towards the ablation zone, where it will eventually, inevitably, melt out at the glacier surface. The precise timing of waste emergence depends on glacier velocity, on the rates of snow accumulation and melt—parameters that are difficult to measure and sensitive to climate change—and on how far above the balance point between accumulation and ablation the waste was deposited.
Recognizing that the Kahiltna Glacier is transporting human waste toward its eventual “melt out,” Dr. Michael Loso of Alaska Pacific University (APU), in collaboration with NPS climbing rangers and other physical scientists, began a multi-year study to answer two questions: (1) Where and when will the human waste emerge? and (2) Are there health impacts of the waste, i.e., are bacteria entering the meltwater?
To predict how fast the waste is moving, Loso and his collaborators have used high-precision GPS to track movements of over 30 stakes drilled into the ice, at intervals from the 11,200-foot camp down glacier about 33 miles. In addition, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) collaborator Matthias Braun has measured velocities farther down glacier using repeat satellite images. To gather more information about accumulation and melting of the Kahiltna Glacier, Loso is also working with UAF researcher Anthony Arendt and graduate student Joanna Young. By returning over one or more seasons to measure stakes inserted in the Kahiltna Glacier, they can quantify what is happening in both zones of accumulation (i.e., how much deeper are the stakes buried) and of ablation (i.e., how much more of the stake is showing)
To test for bacterial contamination from human waste, APU graduate student Katelyn Goodwin analyzed meltwater collected from the Kahiltna River (where it flows out of the terminus of the Kahiltna Glacier about 43 miles below the 11,200-foot Camp) and from nearby streams that would be unimpacted by the crevassed human waste. She also tested how the fecal coliform bacteria persistence in human waste might be affected by a variety of glacier microenvironments: (1) deep burial at Basecamp for one year, (2) exposure near the cold windswept summit for one year, (3) incidental contamination in “pee holes” near active climber camps during the season, and (4) laboratory simulation of repetitive freeze-thaw cycles for over six months.
Ice on the Kahiltna Glacier is almost stationary in some locations, but “zips” along at more than 1,394 feet per year at a location about 14 miles down from 11,200-foot camp, and about 7 miles below Basecamp. Although these rates may seem fast, it will take years for crevassed waste to reach the glacier’s ablation zone and melt out. Based on the preliminary information about accumulation and ablation, Loso’s estimate for where and when the first waste will emerge at the ice surface is near the Great Icefall about 9.3 miles down glacier from Basecamp in the next decade.
Tests of water taken from streams near the Kahiltna (unlikely to be impacted) came back clean (i.e., no coliform bacteria), but in both 2010 and 2011, trace levels of fecal contamination were found in the waters of the Kahiltna River—but at levels that are still within Alaska state water quality standards. E. coli and other fecal bacteria were able to survive exposure to the cold and UV radiation in the four micro-environments tested. These findings strongly suggest that despite the massive size of the Kahiltna Glacier, human waste en-cased in the ice on the climbing route remains biologically active, interacts with glacial meltwater, and is already making its way into the downstream watershed.
At the start of Loso’s study, the impacts of crevassed and emergent waste were unknown. Now estimates of the timing and location of the meltout of human waste are available. Fecal coliform is present in the glacier meltwater. A major remaining question concerns the aesthetic impact of emergent waste. Aside from human health concerns, what is the impact on visitor experience when waste piles begin melting out on the lower glacier?
Loso and collaborators will continue to work to understand the role of climate change in predictions of meltout times and locations, and to work with NPS rangers, researchers, and managers to consider the appropriate management response.
Climbing and history enthusiasts alike are looking forward to the 100th anniversary of the first summit of Denali. Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum were the first mountaineers to reach the top, standing on the south summit on June 7, 1913. In honor of the centennial, Denali National Park has several di-verse plans in the works. A commemorative ascent of the Muldrow Glacier route is currently planned by descendants of pioneer climbers Karstens, Stuck, and Harper, as well as several Athabaskan team members from nearby villages. The intent is to replicate the original climb as closely as possible in terms of timing, route, and a degree of dog sled support.
At least two major museum exhibits highlighting the first ascent are planned for 2013. Curators at the Museum of the North in Fairbanks are putting together a multi-media exhibit including historical artifacts, extensive narratives, and a digital mapping exhibit. From its direct vantage point of the Muldrow Glacier route, Denali National Park’s Eielson Visitor Center will host a specialized interactive exhibit to help bring the pioneer 1913 climb to life for park visitors.
Denali National Park is also planning a Centennial Speaker’s Series to be held at the Denali Visitor Center auditorium beginning in early June. Local historians speak on epic pioneer climbs and adventures in central Alaska.
Finally, as a primary facet of the Centennial Celebration, Denali National Park and the American Alpine Club will co-host an international mountain conference, Sustainable Summits: The International Mountain Conference on Environmental Practices, September 8-11, 2013 in Talkeetna, Alaska. This summit of land managers, climbers, planners and scientists from the world’s mountainous areas will focus on environmentally sustainable management practices and on developing global partnerships. The conference will be open to all interested individuals from around the world, with a capacity of 150 attendees.
This year, teammates Bernie Babcock of Wasilla, Alaska and Ben Smith of Missoula, Montana were selected by Denali National Park and Preserve and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) as the 2012 recipients of the Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award. The award which originated as a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and PMI to honor mountaineers who demonstrate the highest standards in the sport for safety, self-sufficiency, assisting fellow mountaineers, exemplary expedition behavior, and clean climbing. The efforts of Babcock and Smith provide a classic example of selfless actions that allowed for a lifesaving rescue.
In the early morning hours on April 21, the NPS was notified by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) that a climber was in distress at the base of the “Shaken Not Stirred” route on Moose’s Tooth. The reporting climber, Bernie Babcock, stated that a member of a Japanese party of three contacted him and his partner Ben Smith just after midnight asking for help because one team member was seriously injured. Babcock reported that he and Smith, along with a two person Dutch team, responded to the accident scene where they found a critically injured climber.
Babcock and Smith worked with the Dutch team to stabilize and evacuate the unconscious patient. The climbers, now turned rescuers, worked through falling snow, cold, and dark morning hours to get the injured climber back to their camp. At camp, Babcock used his satellite phone to make an emergency call for help to the RCC. Subsequently, Babcock and Smith worked tirelessly to triage and stabilize the injured climber, which would later involve transporting the patient closer to a safe helicopter landing zone. Unfortunately for those on scene, the early attempts to evacuate the patient were thwarted by un-flyable conditions. With a UH-60 Pave-Hawk helicopter waiting nearby and a C-130 Hercules circling above the clouds overhead, Babcock and Smith worked to manage the scene and eventually were able to convey crucial weather observations that allowed a life-saving hoist operation to be conducted. Had it not been for their preparedness, selflessness, and willingness to spring into action, the fate of the injured climber would have been dire.
Deep gratitude goes out to the 45 volunteers who contributed over 12,000 hours to the Denali mountaineering program in 2012. In addition to a talented crop of first-time volunteers, we were thrilled to welcome back a record 17 former volunteers!
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2013
Greetings from the recently re-named Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station.
With the September 2013 passage of the “Denali National Park Improvement Act”, S. 157, a multi-faceted piece of legislation sponsored by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Denali’s mountaineering contact station is now designated the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station, honoring the achievements of Athabaskan native who was the first to set foot on the summit of Denali on June 7, 1913. Harper, a 20-year-old guide, dog musher, trapper/hunter raised in the Koyukuk region of Alaska, was an instrumen-tal member of the first ascent team which also included Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, and Robert Tatum.
Tragically, Harper died in 1918 along with his bride during a honeymoon voyage to Seattle; their steamer SS Princess Sophia struck a reef and sank off the coast of Juneau in dangerous seas, killing all 343 passengers and crew.
A century after his history-making achievement, Harper is immortalized in Denali National Park by the Harper Glacier that bears his name, and now at the park building that all mountaineers must visit before embarking on their Denali expeditions. The ranger station’s new sign was installed in December 2013, and a small celebration is planned for spring 2014 to recognize the new designation. Stay tuned ...
- South District Ranger John Leonard
Denali recorded its most individual summits (783) in any one season. The summit success rate of 68% is the highest percentage since 1977.
The six search and rescue missions performed by Denali rangers in 2013 are summarized below. For more detailed information on mountaineering missions performed in 2013, refer to Accidents in North American Mountaineering-2014, published by the American Alpine Club.
Fatal cardiac arrest
The evening of May 19, a guided client collapsed near the cache spot above Windy Corner at 13,600-feet on Denali’s West Buttress route. The expedition guides alerted the Kahiltna Basecamp Manager, and then initated CPR on the unconscious patient. An NPS ranger patrol responded from the 14,200-foot camp. Upon their arrival at the scene, the volunteer physician pronounced the patient deceased.
On May 26, climbers approached NPS rangers at the 14,200-foot camp on Denali’s West Buttress route to report that one of their teammates was suffering from abdominal pain and nausea. An NPS ranger and volunteer medical staff responded to the patient’s tent and performed a physical examination. The patient was non-ambulatory with a chief complaint of sharp and persistent abdominal pain. The patient was placed on oxygen and monitored for the rest of the day. The patient’s condition did not improve, so a helicopter evacuation ensued. Follow-up with the hospital revealed that the patient had suffered a spontaneous pneumothorax.
Injured knee, arm
A team of five climbers fell while descending from above Denali Pass. They descended on their own power to the 17,200-foot camp where they contacted an NPS ranger patrol. One climber reported a lower leg injury with difficulty walking and another reported an arm injury. Concerned about a safe descent, the injured climbers were assisted between 17,200-feet and 14,200-feet by an NPS ranger patrol.
Guides contacted rangers on June 2 with a report that one of their clients was experiencing respiratory diffi-culty. Rangers evaluated the patient and confirmed he was exhibiting signs of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). The patient was left in the care of his team who claimed they had the knowledge and supplies to treat him accordingly. Later in the day, while conducting a status check, the ranger patrol found the patient unconscious, unresponsive, and frothing from the mouth. The ranger patrol immediately put the patient on oxygen and administered altitude medications. The patient eventually regained consciousness and mobility and was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp via the NPS helicopter.
On June 23, a client on a guided expedition fell while negotiating the bergschrund at the base of the fixed lines at 15,400-feet on the West Buttress. At the time of the fall, the patient’s left arm was wrapped around the fixed line, resulting in the injury. The team descended to the 14,200-foot camp under their own power, and reported to the NPS medical tent for further medical assessment. Due to diminished sensation and motor function in the hand, the patient was evacuated to Talkeetna via helicopter. An evaluation at an Anchorage hospital confirmed a fractured radius and ulna at the wrist joint.
On July 7, a guided expedition was descending below the fixed lines at 15,000 feet on the West Buttress when one client was pulled off their feet by the rope team, twisting the left knee. The following day, NPS personnel at the 14,200-foot camp were notified. they assessed the knee and confirmed the injury was non-weight bearing. A helicopter evacuation was initiated, although poor weather delayed the flight until July 11.
By request from the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), an NPS ranger and a local firefighter flew in the park helicopter to investigate the report of a possible downed aircraft near mile 145 of the Parks Highway. No signs of a plane were found during a one-hour aerial search, and in consultation with the RCC, the search was called off due to lack of further information or confirmation of an accident.
Deteriorating weather during a flightseeing trip on July 2 forced a commercial pilot to make a landing on the Ruth Glacier for the safety of his six passengers. Snowfall and cloud cover kept the seven of them grounded for two days in the DeHavilland Beaver, which was supplied with sleeping bags, food, a stove, and a satellite phone. On July 4, to avoid an emergency situation, a ground team of four NPS rangers was flown via helicopter to the lower Ruth Gorge. The team skied up-glacier 3.5 miles with food, tents, and warm clothing to re-supply the group in the event their stay was prolonged further. The weather cleared sufficiently later that afternoon for the stranded occupants and pilot to return to Talkeetna. No injuries were reported.
The 2013 season was an exciting one as climbers used their imaginations and creativity to seek out virgin, unclimbed terrain. Favorable weather and climbing conditions yielded a significant number of new and technically difficult routes spread across an impressive variety of peaks, many of which were remote and seldom visited. The first new route of the season was opened in the Kichatna Mountains by Jess Roskelley, Ben Erdmann, and Kristoffer Szilas, who braved early April temperatures on The Citadel’s east face. Their route, “Hypa Zypa Couloir”, is adjacent to the established route “Supa Dupa Couloir”, and follows a couloir system featuring a very aesthetic and impressive ice hose which gains the peak’s summit ridge. They continued over the summit, made a challenging descent down the peak’s north ridge, and returned to camp at the end of their third day.
The Mooses Tooth’s east face, one of the largest and most continuously difficult walls in the range, is a tough face to find in good conditions, and sees far more attempts than successes. This season, however, featured the best ice conditions many veterans had ever seen. The face saw a frenzy of activity in April, despite extremely cold temperatures, and the result was three new and very difficult routes. Before this season, only six routes had been established on the face in 32 years, and none had been repeated. The powerful Austrian team of David Lama and Dani Arnold established “Bird of Prey”, which follows a direct and uncompromising line up the center of the upper face, breaking left from the beginning crux pitches of the 2004 route Arctic Rage. The route featured very difficult mixed climbing up to M7+ and rock climbing to 5.10R. Lama and Arnold completed the route to the top of the face but did not follow the final portion of the corniced ridge to the true summit of the peak. Scott Adamson and Pete Tapley teamed up to climb “NWS”, a major ice climb following the significant feature to the right of and parallel to Arctic Rage. This route had been attempted many times in prior years, but the opening step in the primary couloir had lacked ice and thwarted all attempts. This season, a huge ice pillar poured over the step and touched down, creating a WI6 passage into the upper gully. From here, comparatively moderate and very aesthetic ice climbing (sustained grade 4 with occasional grade 5 steps) led upwards for many pitches until the line eventually tied in with the final pitches of Arctic Rage. Adamson and Tapley, like Arnold and Lama, completed the route to the top of the face but did not continue to the true summit along the final corniced ridge. They rappelled the route back to their camp on the Buckskin Glacier.
Adamson next teamed up with Chris Wright to establish an extremely difficult mixed route further to the left of the previous two lines. The line follows the Bridwell/Stump route “Dance of the Woo Li Masters” through the opening snow covered slab pitches and leftward traverses. Where that route continues further left to the prow of the east buttress, Wright and Adamson climbed a direct corner system on the right side of the buttress. Here they found very difficult and seriously run-out, mixed climbing that was described as being quite stressful and psychologically challenging. Their line, which was simply and succinctly dubbed “Terror”, briefly intersected the Bridwell/Stump route again and used a bivi ledge on that route. Next, the pair broke out to the right again and continued through more difficult and unclimbed mixed terrain towards the center of the face to reach the summit ridge. Wright and Adamson then followed the summit ridge to the true summit of the peak, making only the fifth complete ascent to the summit by any of the mountain’s east face routes. The pair then rappelled NWS, which they reported as a fast and straightforward descent route.
Down in the Ruth Gorge, climbers established several impressive new routes. On Mount Johnson, New England climbers Peter Doucette and Silas Rossi climbed a very difficult and thinly iced system of runnels and smears on the back wall of Mount Johnson’s north face. The line boldly takes a series of ephemeral smears and a crux pillar of fragile ice up the wall to the right of the Japanese route “The Ladder Tube”. Doucette and Rossi reached the top of the wall, which is the ridge separating Mount Johnson from Mount Wake to the north, then descended their line, which they dubbed, “The Twisted Stair”, in keeping with the theme of Mount Johnson’s other routes (Escalator, Elevator Shaft, Ladder Tube). Also in May, Mount Johnson saw a second new route com-pleted, this one to its seldom-visited summit. Todd Tumolo and Josh Hoeschen began climbing the Escalator route on the peak’s east face, then shortly after that route enters its signature couloir at mid-height, Tumolo and Hoeschen broke out to the right and into a parallel couloir system. After a few hundred feet, they again traversed right into a more prominent system which parallels the protruding (and unfinished) east buttress closely on the left of the buttress. The line, which was mostly moderate climbing, led the pair directly to the summit. The route was named “The Fire Escape”, again following the theme of Mount Johnson routes. Prior to the ascent of Mount Johnson, Tumolo, along with partner Dusty Eroh, established a major route on Mount Bradley’s unclimbed true north face. The line of the route is difficult to see from the Ruth Gorge, which probably kept it a hidden secret for so long. The route was characterized by sustained thin ice and poorly protected compact snow climbing (“s’nice”). This, along with the suspicious nature of the integrity of the protection and tool placements gave the route its name: Neve Ruse. The pair summited and descended the west ridge to the Wake/Bradley col.
Across the Gorge, Sam Hennessey and Eitan Green made the first ascent of the north face of Peak 7,400’, the point separating Cavity Gap from the formation known as “London Bridge”. The peak has several established routes on its western and southern faces, but Hennessey and Green’s ascent was likely the first of the enigmatic and very steep north face. The route followed complex terrain which became increasingly difficult higher on the route, including several pitches of M6, and ending with some “sketchy” snow and mushroom climbing to gain the summit.
After their climb of Peak 7,400’, Hennessey and Green traveled to the Thunder Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. where they established a new route on the northwest flank of Thunder Mountain. The route ascends a 2000 foot face of ice and moderate mixed climbing to gain the shoulder west of Thunder Mountain, continuing another 1700 feet on easy snow terrain to Thunder’s summit.
In June, Austrians Gerry Fiegl and Alex Blumel completed a new route on the Gargoyle’s west face, which they named “Beauty and the Beast”. The “beauty” lay in the route’s quality lower pitches of beautiful cracks. The “beast” came high on the route in the form of a wet chimney filled with very loose rock and sketchy protection. Fiegl and Blumel also headlined the list of significant repeat ascents in the Ruth Gorge during the 2013 season, repeating the “Tooth Traverse”, the massive enchainment of Sugar Tooth, Eye Tooth, Missing Toof, Bear Tooth, and Moose’s Tooth. This traverse was first completed by Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson in 2012 after four prior attempts. This spring, Wilkinson and Ozturk were joined by Califor-nia rock climbing ace Alex Honnold to make the second ascent of “The Pearl”, a difficult and high quality route on Mount Bradley’s south face, established in 1995 by the late Austrian alpinist Andi Orgler and his partners Helmut Neswadba and Arthur Wutschner. Orgler made a phenomenal number of first ascents in the Ruth Gorge between 1986 and 1995, and he noted the Pearl as one of his finest. Honnold, Ozturk and Wilkinson also made what is probably the fourth ascent of the Southeast Face route on Mount Dickey, the historic 5000 foot rock climb established by David Roberts, Galen Rowell, and Ed Ward in 1974. Honnold, Ozturk and Wilkinson made the round trip ascent in an incredibly fast 25 hours from their camp. The trio also made a very fast ascent of Mount Barrille’s Cobra Pillar. Meanwhile, the Broken Tooth saw only its fifth complete ascent when Alaskan climbers Jay Rowe and Peter Haeussler established a challenging new start variation to the west ridge route, then completed the line of the original west ridge to the true summit. The pair accessed the ridge from the south, beginning from the Coffee Glacier. They bivouacked on the ridge before continuing to the summit on the second day.
Farther west, in a remote area between the Lacuna and Yentna Glaciers, Mark Allen and Graham Zimmermann made the first ascent of the imposing east face of Mount Laurens, one of the peaks that extend southward from Mount Foraker’s “Shark’s Fin” feature. Mount Laurens was first climbed by Austrian speed soloist Thomas Bubendorfer in March 1997, who climbed the peak’s western face from a camp on the Yentna Glacier. Mount Laurens’ east face is a steep and impressive series of snow plastered rock ribs and is plainly visible from Mount Hunter and Mount Foraker, but until this year had remained unvisited. Allen and Zimmermann approached from a glacier landing in the Ramparts, a group of granite spires on the west side of the lower Kahiltna Glacier, and approached the face by an off shoot of the Lacuna Glacier. After retreating from an initial line, they attempted a different line on the northeast buttress, or right side of the face, where they initially found difficult ice and mixed climbing. This led to easier but heady snow slopes which gained the summit ridge, where they traversed an extremely corniced crest to gain the highest point. Using GPS and an altimeter, they obtained a reading of 10,042 feet elevation for this peak, which to date existed only as a closed contour on the map. The pair rappelled and down-climbed through a series of couloirs on the southern margin of the east face. In early May, Japanese climbers Watanabe Daizo and Tani Takeshi climbed a new route on the south face of Mount Francis, which lies directly north of Kahiltna Basecamp. The route follows the great couloir on the south face then continues straight up through mixed terrain graded AI4 and M5 to reach the false (south) summit. They continued from here to the summit following the final portions of the popular southwest face route, and descending via the East Ridge. Though many variations are known to have been climbed on the mountain’s south face, most have gone unreported so it is not known how much of Daizo and Takeshi’s line may have been climbed previously. Daizo and Takeshi named the route “Jumping Jack Flash” and have dedicated their ascent in memory of their friends Junya Shiraishi and Jiro Kurihara, who were killed in an avalanche while attempting a new route of Mount Francis in May 2011.
In late May, Jens Holsten, Seth Timpano, and Jared Vilhauer went exploring in the west fork of the Ruth, be-fore finding an inspiring feature on the upper east face of Reality Ridge. Reality Ridge is a long, granite studded ridge rising from the west fork at just over 7,000’ until it joins the Southeast Spur at point 13,100’. Holsten, Timpano and Vilhauer skied far up the valley separating Reality Ridge from Peak 11,300’ and began climbing the 5000-foot face by way of a long and continuous couloir system filled with many pitches of aesthetic, sustained ice climbing. After a full day they bivouacked at the crest of Reality Ridge, then after a full day of rest they continued up Reality Ridge’s severely corniced upper section, in search of a logical high point, which they found at the top of peak 13,100’. The trio descended back down their new route, which they dubbed the “Reality Face”.
A lot has changed in the last one hundred years...the development of reliable maps, more efficient transportation, lighter weight clothing, life saving communication tools, and technologically superior gear, to name just a few. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the basic drive to reach the top. Of course, a successful climb often takes far more than drive—be it luck, skill, good weather, experience, judgement—but a climber won’t see the summit without it. Whether it was 1913 or 2013, the individual motivations behind that drive vary from team member to team member. Fame, exploration, sheer adventure, personal challenge, or perhaps simply doing a job that puts food on the table. And no doubt for some, all of the above hold true. This year, climbers and historians alike celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first summit of Denali. Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum were the first mountaineers to reach the top, standing on the south summit on June 7, 1913.
Descendants of the original expedition members, including the four that reached the top as well as those that provided the crucial ground support, honored the historic achievement of their ancestors by making a commemorative ascent of Denali. Beginning their climb at the McKinley River on June 7, a team of six descendants and four guides headed up the Muldrow Glacier route, the same route up the moun-tain pioneered by their ancestors. In addition to the guides from the Alaska Mountaineering School, the ‘Denali 2013’ team consisted of Samuel Alexander, Dan Hopkins, Ken Karstens, Ray Schueneman, Samuel Tatum, and Dana Wright; four of whom stood on top of the South Peak of Denali on June 28, capturing a view similar to what their forefathers saw a century prior.
Several major Alaskan museum exhibits specifically high-lighted the first ascent in 2013. The Museum of the North in Fairbanks curated a multi-media exhibit with historical artifacts, extensive narratives, and a digital mapping exhibit. From its direct vantage point of the Muldrow Glacier route, Denali National Park’s Eielson Visitor Center hosted a specialized interactive exhibit that brought the pioneer 1913 climb to life for park visitors. Throughout the summer, Denali National Park also hosted a diverse ‘Centennial Speakers Series’ held at the Denali Visitor Center’s Karstens Theater. Local historians spoke on epic pioneer climbs and adventures in the Alaska Range, kicked off on June 7 by a presentation on the 1913 climb by Tom Walker, author of The Seventymile Kid about the legacy of Harry Karstens. Other speakers included Brian Okonek (1912 Parker-Browne Expedition), Dave Johnston (First Winter Ascent), Jane Bryant (Lindley-Liek Expediton), and Terrance Cole (1910 Sourdough Expedition).
Not only was 2013 a quiet search and rescue season, the medical tent was significantly quieter than in years past, with mountaineering rangers, volunteer medics, and physicians treating only 18 patients. Review of the run sheets indicate a typical variety of ailments and injuries in 2013, though perhaps with fewer cold injuries than usual due to the balmy spring temperatures. In the Medical—Other category, ailments include pink eye, spontaneous pneumothorax, toothache, and abdominal distress.
Any reader of these Mountaineering Summaries over the past decade or more will recognize the names Dr. Jennifer Dow and Paul Marcolini. Dow and Marcolini are indispensable assets to Denali’s emergency medical program. Both work hand-in-hand, year-round, with Denali mountaineering ranger and lead medic Dave Weber to coordinate staff medical training, visitor care, and promote professionalism in the field of outdoor emergency medicine.
Dr. Dow, or Jenn as she is known around here, has served as Medical Director for Denali’s mountaineering program since 2000. As Denali’s sponsoring physician, Dr. Dow assumes professional responsibility for all EMS response in the Park, and oversees all prescription pharmaceuticals dispensed by park rangers. Since 2000, Dow has expanded her medical direction to include all national parks in the Alaska Region. Her dedication and service to the NPS earned Jenn the 2008 George B. Harzog, Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, the highest honor in the NPS Volunteers-In-Parks program. In her ‘off time’, Dr. Dow is an ER doctor at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage.
Paul Marcolini, a longtime paramedic who applies his emergency medical expertise back home at the Central Maine Medical Center, has been serving as volunteer medic on Denali mountaineering patrols since 2006. Marcolini keeps coming back for more each spring, sometimes serving on multiple field patrols in a given season. With extensive paramedic field experience and EMS training expertise, Paul began co-instructing Denali’s pre-season EMT medical refreshers with Dr. Dow starting in 2011. In recent years, Paul has devoted time and off-season attention to drafting a training curriculum, medical field guides, an evacuation matrix, and other operational manuals.
In addition to such responsibilities as providing medical instruction, debriefing medical incidents, quality improvement, revising EMS protocols, and participating in telephone consultations during rescue emergencies, both Dow and Marcolini routinely devote extensive volunteer field time on Kahiltna Basecamp patrols and 30-day high altitude patrols. All Denali staff are grateful for Jenn and Paul’s expertise in the field of emergency medicine, as well as their love of the mountains.
Denali’s mountaineering program would not be possible without its VIPs. In 2013, 40 highly skilled volunteers dedicated over 12,200 hours of work in medical treatment and training, technical rescue, resource protection, cleanup, and education.
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2014
Fatal Climbing Fall(May 5)
An early season climber on the Muldrow Traverse suffered a fatal fall while descending un-roped from Denali Pass (18,200 feet) to the West Buttress high camp (17,200-feet). The climber’s partner was ahead on the route and did not witness the fall. The surviving climber was evacuated on May 7 via the NPS helicopter due to frostbite and inability to descend safely on their own. The remains of the deceased were subsequently recovered.
Medical Illness(May 17)
An expedition contacted an NPS ranger patrol at the 14,200-foot camp medical tent requesting assistance with a team member suffering from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Further evaluation indicated the patient also had a cough and of shortness of breath. NPS rangers and medical staff treated the patient for gastrointestinal distress and HAPE for two days and eventually recommended that the teammates self-evacuate the patient to base camp.
Climbing Fall(May 24)
A three-person rope team fell while descending from Denali Pass, with one of the three sustaining head injuries. The team was assisted back to high camp where the injured climber was evacuated by the NPS helicopter. (see Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro article)
Medical Illness and Trauma(May 24)
A team of 8 climbers associated with a military expedition reported to the 14,200 foot camp on Denali with various medical and trauma complaints. The team members were triaged and it was determined that two of the climbers warranted treatment under the NPS medical guidelines for life, limb and eyesight threats. These two climbers were treated and released back to their team in order to continue their descent to 7,200 foot camp.
Climbing Fall(June 13)
A climber sustained a lower left leg fracture in an un-roped climbing fall from a technical section of the West Buttress Direct route. Teammates self-evacuated the injured party to a location just above Windy Corner (13,600-feet) on the standard West Buttress route where they were met by NPS rangers and volunteers. A ground crew transported the patient up to the 14,200-foot camp for a helicopter evacuation.
Frostbite and Minor Injuries(June 17)
Three climbers from separate expeditions, each travelling solo, suffered varying degrees of frostbite, exposure, fatigue, and other minor traumatic injuries during a long descent from Denali Pass to high camp. Two of the three were evacuated from high camp via the NPS helicopter and subsequently transferred to ground ambulance for further medical care.
Cardiac Issues(June 20)
A client on a guided expedition lost consciousness at 18,800-feet on the West Buttress route after complaining of severe chest pain and shortness of breath. The patient was evacuated from their location via short-haul rescue basket by the high altitude helicopter. Once lowered to the Kahiltna Basecamp, the patient was transferred to an air ambulance for further medical care.
Stranded Kayaker(June 24)
Talkeetna-based climbing rangers rescued a stranded kayaker from the banks of the Upper West Fork of the Yentna River. The kayaker became separated from their boat after flipping in swift whitewater and could not retrieve it. The kayaker activated a PLB from the river’s shore and was rescued via the NPS helicopter. The kayaker was evacuated to Talkeetna with minor injuries and released.
Knee Injury(June 29)
A guided client sustained a knee injury while descending the fixed lines near 15,400 feet. The injured client was able to descend to the 14,200-foot camp, where the guides requested assistance with an evacuation. NPS staff at the 14,200-foot camp conducted a litter lower from 14,200 feet to 11,000 feet, at which point the guided team was able to continue the ground evacuation without assistance.
During the 2014 climbing season, the Denali mountaineering rangers and volunteer medical personnel treated 32 patients that met the 'life, limb or eyesight-threatening' threshold. One patient was treated for two concurrent issues (high altitude illness and frostbite), which resulted in 33 overall field diagnoses.
Review of the patient care reports indicates a typical variety of ailments and injuries last season. The 'Medical –Other' category included patients with respiratory infections, pilonidal cysts, hypovolemic shock, acute abdominal pain, and non-cardiac chest pain. The 'Traumatic Injury' category included patients with a traumatic brain injury, fractured ribs, and an angulated ankle fracture.
Perhaps reflective of the fact that fewer climbers reached the upper elevations of Denali in 2014, rangers likewise treated fewer cases (21%) of high altitude illness this season relative to the historical annual average of 29% in that category. On the flipside, the historical annual average of patients treated for frostbite injuries is 18%, however, the cold temperatures and persistent storms of 2014 likely led to the increased incidence of cold injury (30%).
*AMS = Acute Mountain Sickness, HACE = High Altitude Cerebral Edema, HAPE = High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
"Raising the bar" is so often the term applied to new endeavors that are more taxing or interesting in one way or another. The speed-climbing bar was decisively raised this season by Kilian Jornet who climbed Denali in a record 11 hours and 48 minutes round-trip from Kahiltna basecamp. According to reports, Jornet acclimatized first on the West Buttress route, then on June 7, made his solo speed ascent via the Rescue Gully variation, ascending on both skis and crampons. While Denali National Park does not maintain official speed climbing records, Jornet's impressive feat reportedly clocked in almost 5 hours faster than an also-impressive 2013 ascent by Ed Warren.
The bar was also raised in 2014 on the Alaska Range approach, with Will Mayo and Josh Wharton flying their personal plane from Colorado to Talkeetna before linking up with an air taxi to the Tokositna Glacier for their new route on Mt. Huntington. Beginning 800 feet up the initial couloir of the Colton-Leach route, "Scorched Granite" ascends left onto an independent line that they climbed to its junction with the French Ridge and on to the summit.
In particular, climbers discovered early in the season that conditions on Mount Huntington were unusually good, with consolidated snow and adequate ice coverage. This, combined with several weeks of stable weather, resulted in the mountain receiving an unusually high number of successful ascents, by at least six different routes. These ascents included the first winter ascent of the French (northwest ridge) in March by John Frieh, Jason Stuckey and Brad Farra, and then in early May, what was likely the second ascent of Polarchrome by Jewell Lund and Chantel Astorga. Polarchrome, put up in 1984, was climbed to its intersection with the French Ridge on its original ascent, but the team did not reach the summit. It is likely Lund and Astorga’s may have been the first integral ascent of the route. They were also able to free climb sections of rock that had been previously aided, estimating the difficulty at 5.9.
The most significant ascent on Huntington this season was a new line established on the left hand side of the west face on May 9, by Will Mayo and Josh Wharton. The route begins about 800 feet up the initial couloir of the increasingly popular Colton-Leach route. From here it ascends a striking smear of thin ice on the left hand side of the wall, leading into a corner system with high quality, difficult mixed climbing. After three pitches, the climbers reached a horizontal ledge; they traversed this leftwards to reach a long, right arching ramp system, which they followed to its terminus on the French Ridge, joining the Hough-Lewis variation for the final pitch. Up to this point, since departing the couloir of the Colton-Leach, the route had been entirely on terrain that was previously unclimbed. Mayo and Wharton next simul-climbed the upper French Ridge to the summit, which was reached after only 9 ½ hours of climbing from their basecamp. They rappelled the west face couloir route, returning to their camp after only 13 ½ hours round trip. The called their route “Scorched Granite”. It is graded V, M7, AI6, and features 4,200’ of vertical gain.
Back in 2005, Mayo, along with partner Chris Thomas, had made the first ascent of Mount Huntington’s significant and imposing south sub-summit, the largest and most prominent in a chain of jagged summits that comprises Huntington’s long and complex south buttress. They unofficially dubbed the mountain “Idiot Peak”. This peak received its second ascent on April 21, 2014, by a new route. “Down the Rabbit Hole” was established on the peak’s west face by Scott Adamson, Andy Knight, and Aaron Child, and is graded VI, WI5+,M6. Their line follows a right trending ice corner on the west face, leading directly to the summit ridge. They bivied just below the summit and finished the climb early the next morning. They rappelled from the summit to the col between the peak and Mount Huntington proper. From the col, they rappelled to the west, traversed beneath the Phantom Wall, and descended the lower Harvard route to reach their basecamp on the Tokositna Glacier.
In the Kichatnas, Jess Roskelley and Ben Erdmann were able to establish two new lines in April despite finding decidedly lean ice conditions. They first climbed a 1500 foot corner system on the ridge separating the middle and north forks of the Trident Glacier, a shoulder of Mount Augustin. They descended from here without going to the summit, naming the route “The Snicklefritz” and graded it 5.9, A2, M5, and 80 degree ice.
On April 20, the pair turned their attention Mount Augustin’s unclimbed northeast face. Their route, which they described as “classic and enjoyable”, featured some easy mixed climbing followed by a long snow and ice face. They were able to simul-climb the entire route. The Northeast Face is graded IV, M3, 70 degrees, and is only the second known ascent of Mount Augustin, one of the most prominent summits of the Kichatna group.
Over in the Ruth Glacier, drier than normal conditions prevailed but climbers were able to make repeat ascents of increasingly classic lines such as the Escalator on Mount Johnson, and Wake Up on Mount Wake.
Despite the leaner than normal ice conditions, Colorado climbers Kevin Cooper and Ryan Jennings found the conditions they needed to succeed on an ephemeral and futuristic route up Mount Johnson’s true north face. The route was a line the pair had been dreaming of climbing for more than a decade. In their accomplishment, Cooper and Jennings unquestionably established the most significant new route of this season.
Their route began with long stretches of very steep-to-vertical strips of compacted neve (often referred to as “S’nice”) smeared down a smooth, slabby wall. These strips led upwards to an obvious left facing rock corner on the upper half of the wall and an eventual intersection with the as yet unfinished east buttress of the mountain. Cooper and Jennings found their way past a large and improbable roof at the bottom of the face, then fixed their ropes to the ground and waited for a good weather window. On May 1,
they re-ascended their lines and began climbing. The next 1200 vertical feet featured continuous, 85-90 degree neve climbing with nearly non-existent protection. In several places, they were forced to climb with neither protection nor belays, pushing their boundaries of risk and commitment. They reached the base of the upper corner system and were able to chop a small bivouac site. The corner above featured sustained hard rock and mixed climbing up to M6, difficult protection and belays, and plenty of the crumbly, dangerously loose rock for which Mount Johnson is infamous. They found a spot for a two hour nap midway but otherwise climbed this corner continuously for over 40 hours. In time they reached the top of the wall and the true north face had been climbed. They followed easy snow slopes up the final section of the east buttress, and reached the summit on May 4, having followed entirely unclimbed terrain for the duration of their route. They descended by way of the Johnson-Grosvenor col and then down the hazardous gully separating the two peaks, reaching their basecamp 81 hours after having first left it.
The 4000-foot route is dubbed “Stairway to Heaven”, in keeping with the ascension-themed names of Mount Johnson’s routes, and is graded VI, AI5+X, M6R, A1. The temperatures climbed dramatically during and after the ascent, and the pair felt several sections of the route would have been impossible if they had started only a day later. Routes such as this one rarely come into climbable conditions, and it’s rarer still that there are climbers willing to engage them. Cooper and Jennings’ ascent was surely one of the boldest and most visionary accomplishments in this area’s long and storied climbing history. From late April to mid-May, Japanese climbers Kei Taniguchi and Junji Wada explored unclimbed terrain in the area around the Sheldon Amphitheater of the Ruth Glacier. They managed to complete four new routes in the area during their three week visit.
The first of these routes was a variation to the direct south face of Mount Dan Beard. On April 28, from the basin directly beneath the face, they ascended a large snow couloir up to the rock face above, then traversed to the left to gain the center of the face. They followed snow and ice slopes directly to the summit, finishing to the right side of the headwall. The route was named “Wasabi Prelude” and is graded V, 60 degree snow and ice. They descended by the same route. On May 9, the pair ascended the east spur of a point they dubbed “Point KJ” (approx. 10,500’) which is the highest point along the major northeastern buttress of Peak 11,300’. The route faces directly east and is plainly visible from the Sheldon Amphitheater. The route featured sections of rotten ice lower down and finished with six pitches of mixed climbing to gain the summit snowfields. A bivouac was made on the summit and the route was descended the next day with downclimbing and 8 rappels. The route was dubbed “Wasabi Concerto” and is graded AI4+R, M5+R.
On May 13, the climbers returned to Mount Dan Beard and established a new route on the east face. The route follows a v-shaped couloir on the right side of the face to gain the East Ridge. It continues leftward up the ridge with some mixed climbing and rotten ice, passing seracs, a snow arête, and a finally a large crevasse by way of a steep pitch of ice. The climbers made the ascent in twelve hours to the summit, and descended the south face route they had climbed on April 28th. The route was named “Wasabi Nocturne” and is graded WI4, AI5, and M5.
Finally, on May 17, the pair established another route on the east face of the northeast buttress of Peak 11,300’. This route is located to the right (north) of the above-described “Wasabi Concerto” and follows an ice couloir to the ridgeline, then continues along the ridge via rock climbing to reach the top of a point they dubbed “Point 3”. Difficulties were graded WI4, and M4, and the route was named “Wasabi Sonatine”. The ascent required ten hours to complete, and they climbers descended by the same route. The Japanese described the northwest buttress of Peak 11,300’ as having four distinct summits. They dubbed these unofficially, from right to left (north to south), as Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, and Point KJ. A very sharp, corniced and knife edged ridge separates Point KJ and the northeast buttress from the main mass of Peak 11,300’, making the buttress almost a distinct entity from Peak 11,300’.
On June 15, the “Control Tower”, the small tower which stands guard over the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna and the Kahiltna Basecamp, saw a difficult new route established by Alan Rousseau and Mark Pugliese. The route begins below a pillar on the southwest corner of the tower, less than 30 minutes approach from basecamp. The route reaches the summit in 12 pitches and features sustained mixed climbing. The route was named “It Is Included”, and is graded M7, 5.10+, and AI3.
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2015
The 2015 Denali mountaineering season was a comparatively quiet one—on average, we saw fewer attempts, fewer sick patients, and responded to fewer climbing accidents. Just the way we like it. Despite the calm season, the mountain became a national conversation topic at the end of summer thanks to its brand new (albeit centuries old...) name 'Denali' and its brand new (or at least more technically accurate) elevation. Yes, climbers on the High One will only need to ascend 20,310 feet in future seasons thanks to a 2015 USGS survey that pegged the summit 10 feet lower than the previous survey completed in the 1950's.
The statistics and articles below provide an overview the 2015 climbing season. For a more detailed, day-to-day look at how the 2015 season progressed, check out the Denali Dispatches blog. Note that the statistics presented below are the final corrected numbers after a post-season review of the data, so they may differ slightly from the statistics presented in the final days of the blog.
Denali mountaineering rangers responded to a total of 11 major search and rescues this season, including one Inter-Agency Assist at neighboring Kluane National Park in Canada. There was one fatality early in the season. Eight of the incidents required use of the park's leased A-Star B3e high altitude helicopter for evacuation.
Exposure - Fatality
The evening of May 11, two climbers triggered a slab avalanche at roughly 7,500 feet on Mount Dickey, though neither was caught in the slide. The team attempted to self-evacuate, however they found no safe exit routes. An air taxi pilot observed the two stranded climbers waving their arms above an 'SOS' stomped out in the snow on the peak's west shoulder. NPS rangers were notified, and the two climbers were evacuated from their location by Denali's high altitude helicopter.
NPS rangers were contacted on May 12 about a guided client at 9,200-feet on the West Buttress suffering from severe internal pain just beneath the ribcage on the lower right side of his back. The patient's guides provided some initial pain medication, and then the team began a descent to Basecamp pulling the injured patient in a sled. The team was met along the way by two different NPS Patrols and assisted back to Basecamp where the patient was evacuated to Talkeetna via air taxi. The client was later diagnosed at an Anchorage hospital with a herniated disc.
On May 11, a two-member team made a summit bid from 17,200-foot high camp on the West Buttress route. Conditions were slow and the team was not able to return to their high camp until mid-morning the following day. Due to the prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures, both climbers suffered frostbite on their feet. One climber's condition was serious enough to warrant an air evacuation from the 14,200-foot camp on May 13.
A concerned family member contacted NPS staff in Talkeetna about a potentially unstable climber at the Kahiltna Basecamp who had exhibited signs of psychological distress during a satellite phone call home. An NPS ranger-medic consulted with the individual and subsequently accompanied him back to Talkeetna via fixed wing flight without incident.
On June 12, a guide informed NPS rangers via FRS radio that he was tending to a patient with frostbite at 17,200-feet. The patient, who was an independent climber and not a client of the guide, was stable and non-critical, but had frostbitten all ten fingers while setting up camp. Rangers and volunteers at 14,200-foot camp provided radio consultation that evening. The following morning, a ranger and two VIPs rendezvoused with the injured patient at 16,200-feet. The NPS patrol members lowered the frostbitten climber down the fixed lines while the patient's team traveled down independently. At the NPS medical tent, two medical VIP's conducted a patient assessment. After several evaluations, the patient's fingers were deemed to be unusable for his descent to base camp and would create an undue risk to himself and his team. The injured climber was evacuated to Basecamp via the park's high altitude helicopter and released for an air taxi flight back to Talkeetna and onward to further medical care.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
At 4:00 am on June 16, the Alaska Regional Communication Center was contacted via satellite phone by a 2-member climbing team located at 17,200-foot high camp. One of the climbers was experiencing respiratory distress after returning from the summit two hours prior. The climbing party was put in contact with the NPS ranger patrol at high camp;the NPS ranger and volunteer physician immediately treated the patient for mild HAPE. After periodic re-assessments throughout the day, the sick climber's condition improved. The team was able to descend without NPS assistance to the 14,200-foot camp the following day.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
On June 19, NPS rangers at the 17,200-foot high camp were notified about a tent-bound climber in camp presenting with a decreased level of responsiveness. According to his teammate, the individual had fallen ill upon arrival at high camp three days prior, and his condition had steadily worsened. NPS rangers and volunteers began treatment for HAPE and initiated an air evacuation from 17,200-feet using the park's high altitude helicopter. The patient was transferred to an air ambulance at the Kahiltna Basecamp, and was subsequently treated for several days in an Anchorage intensive care unit for HAPE and HACE.
On July 5, an assistant guide on a commercial expedition injured a calf and Achilles Heal during an ascent of the West Buttress. Unable to continue safely due to the injury, the patient was evacuated by the park's high altitude helicopter from 11,000-feet on Denali.
Kluane National Park of Parks Canada contacted rangers at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station staff to request assistance with a high altitude rescue on Mount Logan. Three climbers were immobilized at 17,000 feet elevation due to injury, cold, and fatigue. Denali's high altitude helicopter, a pilot, and two mountaineering rangers were brought in as a contingency resource. The three climbers were evacuated by a Parks Canada leased helicopter, with the Denali helicopter flying several related rescue support missions.
It was a quiet year in the medical tent, with Denali mountaineering rangers and volunteer medical personnel treating only 15 patients that met the 'life, limb or eyesight-threatening' threshold.
*AMS = Acute Mountain Sickness, HACE = High Altitude Cerebral Edema, HAPE = High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
Researched and Compiled by Denali Mountaineering Ranger Mark Westman
The 2015 Alaska Range climbing season saw a subdued number of new routes established in the range in comparison to 2014. The weather, as usual, was inconsistent and kept climbers waiting and guessing, but there were several opportunistic groups able to utilize the stretches of favorable weather that did materialize. These groups were able to bag some good new lines as well as some significant repeat ascents.
On Denali, the early season was stormy and brutal, with near-constant, strong southerly winds above 14,000 feet, along with several heavy snowfalls, conditions which frustrated teams throughout the month of May. By May 27, only three climbers had successfully reached the summit of Denali, the first of which was winter soloist Lonnie DuPre.
Dupre reached the summit on January 11, becoming the first person to solo the mountain in the month of January. This was Dupre's fourth attempt, dating to 2010, to solo the mountain during the darkest, and often coldest, part of the winter season. Dupre flew onto the mountain on December 18. Much of his time on the lower mountain featured stormy weather as Alaska was under the influence of an unusually mild and wet pattern for that time of the year. Although January is typically one of coldest months of the year, by the time Dupre was ready to move to the upper mountain, the relatively mild temperatures- which were cold by any standard nonetheless- continued. At the same time, a period of stable weather largely devoid of the typically ferocious winter winds settled over the mountain. Dupre took advantage of this pattern and spent only two nights at high camp, grabbing the summit, and descending quickly to lower altitudes before the usually fearsome winds and weather could close back in.
Two acclimatized climbers reached the summit during a brief mid-May lull in the winds, by climbing to the top in a long day from 14,000 feet. During the first four weeks of May, they would be the only persons able to reach the summit. In fact, the high winds were so continuous that they discouraged many teams from even reaching high camp during this period. It wasn't until the last days of the month that a stretch of good weather finally arrived and the upper mountain became more hospitable for teams to make their attempts. In mid-June, the arrival of a very strong and warm high pressure system allowed a large number of climbers to reach the summit. During this window, Jewell Lund and Chantel Astorga made a five day ascent of the Denali Diamond (Alaska Grade 6, AI5+, M6, A1), a difficult and high quality testpiece on the southwest face of Denali. Lund and Astorga's ascent marks the first all-female ascent of an Alaska Grade 6 route, and also marks only the 7th ascent of this iconic climbing route.
From March 20 to 22, a new route was established on the northeast face of Mount Dickey in the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier. John Frieh, Jason Stuckey, and Chad Diesinger threaded their way through an icefall, negotiated an ice smear up a granite slab, then followed a narrow snow ramp diagonaling up and across the intimidating face to reach a complex, time-consuming exit hampered by deep, unconsolidated snow. Upon reached the plateau, they continued up to the summit and then descended the standard west face route through 747 pass to return to their camp in the Ruth Gorge, after over 48 hours on the go. They named their route "Blue Collar Beatdown" and its difficulties are graded V, WI4, M4, with snow to 65 degrees.
From May 2 to May 7, Alik Berg and Skiy DeTray made an ascent of a new and very direct route up the enormous east face of the Mooses Tooth. "Illusions of the Raven" (VI, WI4R, 5.9, A4) follows an uncompromising line directly up the largest part of the east face, just to the right of "Bird of Prey", another very difficult route established in 2013 by Austrians David Lama and Dani Arnold. Berg and DeTray spent 6 days on the face and completed the final section of the route in a 50 hour continuous push, with another 27 hours required to rappel the route and return to their camp. The 5000 foot route is without question the most difficult and sustained new route completed in the park this season.
On May 1, Jack Cramer and Carter Stritch completed a new route on Peak 7,400', which is the prominent point just north of the formation known as "London Bridge" on the east side of the Ruth Gorge. Their route, "Pastime Paradise", climbs through mixed terrain on the upper southwest face of the mountain. The route was completed in 14 hours round trip from the glacier and was given the grade of III, 5.8, 50 degree snow, and involved a vertical gain of 3,000 feet.
On May 11, Cramer and Stritch completed another new line in the Gorge. This route is located on an unnamed point (approximately 5,850' elevation) located immediately south of Hut Tower at the southern end of the Ruth Gorge. Their route follows a serpentine course up a couloir system on the formation's southwest face. The route features a blend of rock and thin ice climbing, with some detours to avoid unprotectable sections of ice in the couloir, and finished with a corniced ridge to reach the western summit of the peak. The descent used involved two rappels to reach the straightforward snow couloir separating this peak from Hut Tower. They named the 1,800 foot route "Triple Wannabe Couloirs" and graded it 5.7, WI4.
Over on the Kahiltna Glacier, on May 18, climbers JD Merritt and Brett Backey climbed a major variation to the north couloir of the Mini-Moonflower, one of the classic climbs of the area. Merritt and Backey climbed an obvious gully and ramp system to the left of the north couloir. This began with easy ice climbing for 200 meters followed by 85 degree ice through a runnel, then a rising rightward traverse. Vertical downclimbing over a snow rib provided access back into the final pitches of the standard north couloir route. While it is possible that this obvious feature was climbed previously, Merritt and Backey's ascent of this line is the first one to be publicly reported. At the end of May, Merritt, along with Kurt Ross, also made what was likely the fifth ascent of the difficult Grison-Tedeschi route (aka North Buttress "French" Couloir) on the north buttress of Mount Hunter, reaching the summit and descending the mountain's west ridge. Only one other team succeeded in reaching the summit of Hunter by way of the north buttress;in early May, Jimmy Voorhis, Peter Mamrol, and Jeffrey Longcor climbed the iconic Bibler-Klewin route (aka "Moonflower") and descended the west ridge. Warm conditions in mid and late May resulted in much falling debris on the buttress and caused many teams to abandon their attempts.
On May 19, Tim Blakemore and Kichatna/Alaska veteran Mike "Twid" Turner, both from Britain, established a new route on North Triple Peak in the remote Kichatna Spires. "No Country for Old Men" follows the broad northwest couloir up ice for six leads before branching left and tackling a series of steep, thin, and difficult ice smears leading into a gully with moderate and enjoyable ice climbing. A hard exit through a cornice capped this quality 17 pitch route, which was graded ED, WI6.
In the Ruth Glacier's west fork, Seth Timpano, Sam Hennessey, and Willis Brown established two new routes during the month of May. The trio climbed a new route up the west face of "Reality Peak" (Pt. 13,100'), a significant point which is also the junction of Denali's Reality Ridge and Southeast Spur routes. Timpano, along with Jared Vilhauer and Jens Holsten, had established another new route on the east face of Reality Peak back in 2013. This year's route featured sustained grade 3 to grade 4 ice climbing, with one crux lead of WI5. The trio reached the crest of Reality Ridge and after negotiating some difficult snow and cornice climbing, they reached the same bivouac site used on the 2013 ascent. They reached this point 16 hours after crossing the bergschrund. They remained in this bivouac for a full day due to inclement weather. On day three, they reached the summit of "Reality Peak" and then rappelled their route of ascent. The 4,200' route is graded M4, WI5.
Timpano, Hennessey, and Brown also climbed a couloir system on the far left side of the west face of Peak 11,300'. They reached the northwest ridge at a point just a few pitches from the summit. The final portion of the northwest ridge, which itself is unclimbed, and the summit icecap, featured difficult serac barriers and cornices, and proved very complex to navigate as the weather deteriorated into complete whiteout conditions. The team was eventually forced to retreat at what they believe was the final step to the summit. They returned to their basecamp at the foot of the mountain after 27 hours round trip. The difficulties encountered on this 3,200 foot route are graded M5, AI5.
At least two known routes exist on the west face of Peak 11,300', both of which- likely unrepeated- are located on the right hand side of the face and were established in 1982 and 1983.In 2015, Timpano, Hennessey, and Brown found an old chock and carabiner rappel anchor part way up their line of ascent, but saw no other signs of prior visitation. No record of any prior ascent or attempt of this line exists, so it is unknown if the party who left the anchor completed this line to the summit.
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2016
A winter climber departed Talkeetna on January 21, 2016 for a planned 65-day solo expedition on the West Ridge of Mount Hunter. On April 3 (Day 72 of the expedition), the uninjured soloist was evacuated from 8,600 feet via short-haul rescue basket after becoming stranded with inadequate food and fuel due to persistent avalanche conditions.
After an eight-day, early season ascent to the 14,200-foot basin, one member of a three-person climbing team was ataxic and presented with a headache, persistent uncontrollable cough, and fluid in the lungs. As the only team in camp, the climber’s teammates sent a satellite phone text to the Alaska Region Communication Center (ARCC) requesting an emergency evacuation. On April 24, the sick climber was evacuated by park helicopter from the 14,200-foot camp because of suspected high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). The patient was flown to Talkeetna, and then transferred to ground ambulance for further care. The remaining two expedition members descended without incident.
On May 25, two teammates at the17,200-foot camp on the West Buttress contacted NPS rangers via FRS radio to report frostbite injuries sustained during their ascent from 14,200-feet the day before. One climber reported deep frostbite injuries to both hands, while the teammate reported deep frostbite injuries to both feet. They requested rescue assistance due to their combined inability to safely descend in technical terrain. A significant storm prevented safe travel for the following three days; however the team maintained scheduled FRS radio communications with medical updates, treatment recommendations and evacuation logistics. When the storm ended on May 28, the injured climbers and the NPS ranger team met at 15,400 feet on the West Buttress. Following a patient assessments, the climber with frostbitten hands was assisted on foot, while the climber with frostbitten feet was packaged and transported via ski toboggan with belay to the camp at 14,200 feet. The patients were treated and monitored in camp overnight, then evacuated via helicopter to Talkeetna the following day. Both subjects were transported via personal vehicle to a frostbite specialist at MatSu Regional Hospital for further evaluation.
On May 28, a ski mountaineer fell while skiing the Messner Couloir on Denali. The unroped fall initiated at approximately 17,000 feet. According to the surviving climbing partner, the two were retreating from a planned ascent of the Messner Couloir due to difficult route conditions. The pair had transitioned from climbing in crampons to skis for their descent back to their camp at 14,200 feet. After two to three ski turns during the descent, one of the skiers caught a ski edge in the snow surface and fell approximately 1,500 feet. NPS rangers at the 14,200 foot camp were notified of the fall and initiated ground rescue efforts. After confirming the skier had died of traumatic injuries sustained in the long fall, members of the NPS patrol recovered the remains, while other patrol members assisted the surviving teammate back to the 14,200-foot camp.
On June 6, a climber was evacuated by helicopter from the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress due to severe frostbite to fingers and toes on all four extremities. The patient was flown to Talkeetna, and then transferred to ground ambulance for advanced care.
In the early morning hours of June 14, a climber began to demonstrate signs and symptoms of high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) while descending from the summit of Denali on the West Buttress. Based on reports from teammates and a passing climber who rendered assistance, the climber’s condition rapidly deteriorated before the individual collapsed at 18,400 feet near Zebra Rocks. The patient initially indicated that his eyesight had diminished, and soon thereafter he became incapacitated and unable to walk. The assisting climber quickly descended solo to high camp for help, while the impaired climber’s four teammates remained with him. NPS rangers were notified of the incident. The park’s high altitude helicopter pilot and crew flew an initial reconnaissance mission to 18,400-feet, then returned shortly thereafter with a rescue basket via short-haul line. The teammates secured the unresponsive patient in the rescue basket for transport to the 14,200-foot camp. Advanced Life Support (ALS) interventions were initiated, but the patient was pronounced deceased. The climber’s remains were transported to Talkeetna.
NPS rangers and volunteers at 17,200-foot camp received notification from a commercial guide that one of their clients was experiencing signs and symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) on June 17. The NPS patrol traveled to the base of Denali Pass and helped walk the patient back to the 17,200-foot camp for assessment and treatment. The client’s guide had already started appropriate drug interventions on descent from Denali Pass, and then low flow oxygen was administered at 17,200-foot camp. Nevertheless, NPS responders reported that the patient’s status was deteriorating. The park’s high altitude helicopter pilot launched from Talkeetna at 4:15 am, picked up a ranger paramedic at basecamp, then flew to high camp. The NPS patrol at high camp loaded the patient for a direct flight to Talkeetna. In Talkeetna, transfer was made to a LifeFlight air ambulance and the patient was flown to Mat Su Regional Hospital for further care.
In the early hours of June 23, while descending from the summit, a climber on a four-person rope team lost their footing at about 18,400 feet, pulling the rope team off their feet. One of the teammates successfully arrested the fall. However, one team member sustained a closed head injury and was unconscious, and a second teammate sustained a chest contusion with a possible broken rib. The climber with the rib injury, who happened to be a physician, remained with the unconscious teammate while the two uninjured climbers descended to high camp for help.
On June 26, a client on a guided expedition was at the 14,200-foot camp on Denali’s West Buttress when they began having symptoms of HACE, including a severe headache and blurred vision. The client’s lead guide initially assessed the condition and provided medication. When the patient failed to respond favorably to medication, the NPS ranger team was summoned and the patient was moved to the ranger medical tent. The patient was given additional medication and started on hyperbaric chamber treatments which continued roughly every other hour through the afternoon and night until the client was evacuated by helicopter the morning of June 27. While down at an elevation of 320 feet in Talkeetna, the recovering patient was evaluated by Mat-Su Borough ambulance personnel and later declined transport to a hospital.
A backcountry traveler was attempting to traverse with two partners from the Pika Glacier to the Tokositna River when a boulder underfoot gave way on the lower Granite Glacier. The individual suffered an open, compound broken arm with significant blood loss and associated pain. Due to the location of the team and immediate threat to the arm, they use an inReach satellite device to contact friends, who in turn contacted NPS rangers for assistance. The patient was evacuated to Talkeetna via helicopter and driven by friends to Mat-Su Regional Hospital.
On August 1, the Alaska Ranger Communication Center staff received a satellite phone call alerting park staff about a person in severe abdominal pain at the Mountain House on the Ruth Glacier. The individual had been suffering from acute pain and related distress for five days, and the group was concerned about the patient’s hydration and overall nutrition. Prolonged cloud cover on the landing strip precluded a fixed wing pick-up. Later that afternoon, the park’s high altitude helicopter pilot was able to fly to the Mountain House with two park ranger-medics on board to evacuate the patient and one family member. The family member drove the patient to the hospital for further medical care.
Denali mountaineering rangers and volunteer medical personnel treated 17 patients that met the 'life, limb or eyesight-threatening' guideline. Patients not meeting this treatment threshold are expected to self-treat and evacuate as needed. The following list provides a breakdown of the field diagnoses from this season:
One fatality resulted from traumatic injuries sustained in a skiing fall and the other likely from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) based on the report from his expedition teammates.
The patient care reports from the 2016 climbing season denote ailments and injuries common to climbing in the Alaska Range. Many of these medical and trauma problems are preventable given prudent decision-making and a reasonable ascent profile during a climbing expedition. Additional information on the prevention, recognition, and treatment of common mountain medicine issues can be found in the Denali Expedition Planning Tools.
Researched and Compiled by Denali Mountaineering Ranger Mark Westman
The 2016 Alaska Range climbing season featured several early season successes on lower elevation peaks by strong and motivated teams. El Nino yielded another very warm winter in Alaska, and also a deep snowpack which proved to be generally supportive, and also made for good ice conditions in many areas of the range.
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2017Visit our VIP page for a list of all 2017 mountaineering volunteers. Read about the efforts of the 2017 recipients of the Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award.
West Buttress, Denali
(May 16) NPS mountaineering rangers were notified of a guided climber experiencing chest pain at the 14,200-foot camp. The patient complained of sudden onset chest and left shoulder pain. The patient reported no personal or family history of cardiac issues. Following a complete patient assessment and evaluation with a cardiac monitor, the patient was treated for acute coronary syndrome with oxygen, aspirin and morphine. Due to the cardiac field diagnosis, the decision was made to evacuate the patient by air. The patient was flown back to Talkeetna airport and transferred to local ambulance providers without incident.Crevasse Fall
West Buttress, Denali
(May 26) NPS rangers received a radio call at 14,200-foot camp that a climber on an independent team had fallen into a crevasse while traveling un-roped at 8,300 feet on Denali’s West Buttress. Two mountain guides on scene extracted the verbally-responsive climber from 20 meters below the glacier surface within 30 minutes. Further NPS assistance was requested due to severe flank pain and a concern about hypothermia. When NPS personnel arrived on scene, they determined the potential for a lower back injury necessitated an air evacuation in full spinal motion restriction. Once the weather cleared the following morning, the patient was evacuated via helicopter to Talkeetna in a vacuum mattress and cervical collar and transferred to ground ambulance.Frostbite
West Buttress, Denali
(May 27) Mountaineering rangers in Talkeetna received a satellite phone call indicating that a climber sustained frostbite injuries to all ten fingers while descending the West Buttress route on Denali and was in need of rescue. Subsequently, a climbing party contacted mountaineering rangers at 14,200 feet via FRS radio to report a non-ambulatory climber with frostbitten fingers lying in a sleeping bag at 16,800 feet during their ascent. While the NPS patrol began ascending to the injured patient’s location, they learned that two independent climbers had begun to lower the patient from Washburn’s Thumb. Three additional mountain guides assisted with the lowering operation until they rendezvoused with the NPS team at 14,800 feet, who then lowered the patient to 14,200-foot camp for assessment and treatment for frostbite. While waiting for weather to clear for a helicopter evacuation, rangers consulted with frostbite experts at the University of Utah who recommended prompt thrombolytic therapy. That evening, the patient was flown from 14,200-foot camp direct to the airport in Palmer, Alaska and transferred to the regional hospital by ambulance.Airplane Crash
Upper Airstrip, Ruth Gorge
(May 28) An airplane flipped during an aborted take-off at the upper Ruth Gorge airstrip beneath Mount Dickey. While turning at the bottom of the runway to make a second attempt, the right ski dug into the deep snow and caused the plane to flip over the nose and onto its roof. When the plane came to rest, the pilot assisted all six passengers to exit the plane and performed cursory patient assessments on each. The pilot was able to report this incident to other planes in the vicinity. All six passengers and pilot were flown back to Talkeetna in another aircraft, four of whom were transported to the regional hospital by local ambulance for evaluation of minor injuries, airsickness and nausea.Appendicitis
West Buttress, Denali
(June 4) An NPS patrol responded to a climber suffering acute stomach pain at 6,700 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier. Earlier that day, the same patrol had assessed the patient for stomach pain at 14,200-foot camp, however at that time, both the climber and NPS medical providers determined self-evacuation was possible. As that climber descended throughout the day, symptoms of appendicitis appeared. The patient was transported via toboggan to basecamp due to the increased pain and difficulty walking. NPS rangers treated the patient with pain medication and antibiotics until he could be evacuated by air the following morning. At the airport, he was transferred to local EMS for transport to the regional hospital for surgery.Crevasse Fall
West Buttress, Denali
(June 4) While descending the West Buttress, two un-roped climbers on snowshoes encountered a 4-foot wide crevasse just below 7,800-foot camp. As the first climber began to cross the snow bridge covering this crevasse, the bridge collapsed and the climber fell roughly 60 feet into the crevasse, only stopping when he became wedged in the narrowing fissure. His partner could not see him and returned to 7,800-foot camp to get help.
Cassin Ridge, Denali
(June 11) Mountaineering rangers responded to a climber suffering from snow blindness at 14,200-foot camp after summiting Denali via the Cassin Ridge one day prior. The climb of the Cassin was completed in poor weather with high winds, during which the team lost multiple pieces of equipment included the patient’s goggles. This loss proved problematic on summit day when glacier glasses did not provide adequate protection from the high winds and sunlight. NPS volunteer paramedics provided continual treatment over a 24-hour period, however these efforts yielded no improvement. The decision was made to evacuate the patient by helicopter for further assessment and treatment.
West Buttress, Denali
(June 12) Mountaineering rangers initiated treatment on a patient for both frostbite and severe dehydration. The climber was first injured while bivouacking during a storm on Denali’s summit on June 11 and sustained deep frostbite injuries to multiple fingers and toes. The patient was flown to Talkeetna on June 13 for further treatment in a regional hospital.
West Buttress, Denali
(June 15) Mountaineering ranger patrol responded to two climbers from the same expedition team suffering from deep frostbite injuries to their hands. These climbers descended to 14,200-foot camp following a summit attempt the day prior. The climbers reported that they initially frostbit their hands while traversing below Denali Pass. During the medical assessment, the ranger and volunteer discovered that one of the two patients was also exhibiting signs and symptoms of snow blindness. Both climbers were treated overnight, and the following day they were evacuated via helicopter and transferred to the local ambulance and hospital.
West Buttress, Denali
(June 16) A climber died from suspected high altitude pulmonary and cerebral edema (HAPE and HACE) at 17,500 feet while descending the West Buttress route. The team of three had departed for the summit on June 15, the ninth day of their expedition. The patient struggled to keep up throughout the day and requested to remain at the Football Field (19,500 feet) while his partners continued to the summit. His teammates reported that when they reunited on the Football Field after summiting, the patient was moving slowly and unsteadily on his feet. His teammates began short roping the climber below Denali Pass while traversing to high camp. The patient became non-ambulatory about thirty minutes above camp and his teammates secured him to an ice axe before descending to camp to summon help. Another party on the climbing route encountered this team and used their satellite device to initiate a rescue.
Rescue Gully, West Buttress, Denali
(June 16) An NPS mountaineering patrol treated a patient that had been involved in an avalanche in Rescue Gully below 17,200-foot camp. The mountaineer had triggered, and was subsequently caught in, a slide while skiing the couloir. During the approximate 200-foot tumbling fall, the skier came to a rest atop the avalanche debris. However, the skier had lost his skis, various pieces of mountaineering equipment and his prescription eyewear during the avalanche. Due to the high avalanche hazard and poor visibility, NPS rescue response was deemed unfeasible for scene safety concerns. The skier's team was able to evacuate him to 14,200-foot camp where he was assessed and treated by NPS personnel. The skier was evacuated in the NPS helicopter on June 17 with a knee injury.
Denali mountaineering rangers and rescue patrol volunteers treated 19 patients that met our 'life, limb or eyesight-threatened' threshold. Patients not meeting this treatment guideline are advised to self-treat and evacuate as needed. Here is the breakdown of field diagnoses, and note that some patients were treated for multiple issues, resulting in a higher number of diagnoses than patients:
Unfortunately, there was one fatality in the Alaska Range this season. This fatality likely resulted from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and hypothermia based on reports from expedition teammates and rescuers on scene at high camp. Ultimately, fourteen patients required helicopter evacuation from the mountain, while five were able to self-evacuate after stabilization by our medical providers.
The patient care reports from our last climbing season describe ailments and injuries often associated with mountaineering and alpine climbing in the Alaska Range.
Many of these medical and traumatic issues are preventable with prudent decision-making and a reasonable ascent profile during climbing expeditions. Additional information on the prevention, recognition, and treatment of common mountain medicine maladies can be found online in our Denali mountaineering planning tools.
A combination of poor weather, low snowpack, and lack of ice in many areas of the Alaska Range yielded a relatively quiet season with respect to new routing and significant repeat ascents. Nonetheless, several teams managed to take advantage of a long spell of good weather in April, in most cases embracing objectives which were likely safer and more feasible during lower snow years such as this one.
From April 18 to April 25, Jess Roskelley and Clint Helander made the first integral ascent of Mount Huntington’s long, turreted south ridge. In making this enchainment, they completed one of the longest new routes in recent years in the Alaska Range. This was a massive and committing undertaking, beginning with a lengthy and dangerous approach from the normal landing site on the Tokositna Glacier, beneath Mount Huntington’s west face. The ridge itself consists of four separate, increasingly higher sub-summits, followed by Mount Huntington’s much higher primary massif. At least two of these sub-summits - the second and fourth towers - had been reached before, and several sections of the ridge had been traversed previously.
From April 12-April 14, Will Sim of Great Britain and Greg Boswell of Scotland completed a very difficult route on the east face of the Bear’s Tooth. After bypassing an initial icefall by way of a couloir to its left, the route follows a primary chimney system, occasionally exiting onto the right wall when encountering poor rock or snow mushrooms. Sim and Boswell declined to qualify the 1400 meter route’s technical difficulties, giving it only “ice, rock, mixed…”, but it is presumed to be of significant difficulty.
On April 19 and 20, Will Sim of Great Britain and Greg Boswell of Scotland completed another new route out of the Buckskin Glacier’s upper cirque. They climbed a peak immediately north of Broken Tooth, which they believed to be unclimbed, and dubbed it the “Shark’s Tooth”. Their route, which they named “Shark Fishing”, climbs the west face and is described as follows:
From April 6 to April 10, Freddie Wilkinson and Dana “Mad Dog” Drummond completed the first integrale ascent of Mount Russell’s south face and ridge. The upper, ridge portion of this route was used as the mountain’s first ascent in 1962, by a German party. This party had begun their expedition from the Chedotlothna Glacier on the mountain’s northwest flank. This team was landed by ski-wheel airplane on the Chedotlothna Glacier, but glacial changes have made this landing no longer feasible today. A long overland approach from the Purkeypile or Tonzona River landing strips would now be required in order to follow this original line. The Germans followed an icefall and glacier terrain up beneath the west face of Russell and then climbed to a col to the southwest of the main peak. From here, they climbed an ice slope to attain the south ridge, then followed the gargoyled and heavily rime-iced ridge to the summit.
Mount Hunter—Solo Ascent of North Buttress
In May, American alpinist Colin Haley made the first complete solo ascent of Mount Hunter’s north buttress to the summit of Mount Hunter. Haley connected parts of the Deprivation and the Bjornberg-Ireland routes on the right side of the buttress, possibly including some previously unclimbed terrain low on the wall to bypass the difficult and insecure crux pitch of Deprivation. Haley used a self-belay on the more difficult sections but otherwise climbed ropeless, as much of the terrain consisted of moderately steep ice. Haley descended the Bibler-Klewin route.
On Denali, Katie Bono accomplished a speed ascent of the mountain’s West Buttress route on June 14. Bono left Kahiltna Basecamp at 6 AM that morning and reached the summit of the mountain at 8:46 PM. She returned to Kahiltna Basecamp in a round trip time of 21 hours, 6 minutes. This was the first recorded women’s speed record for the mountain, and was the third fastest round trip time on Denali’s West Buttress. Bono spent over three weeks acclimatizing on the mountain prior to the ascent.
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2018
Thank you to the 31 mountaineering Volunteers-in-Parks (VIP's) who teamed up with Denali rangers to staff the mountain camps in 2018. Read about the efforts of the 2018 recipients of the Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award.
Statistics compiled by Registration Supervisor Debbie Reiswig
West Face, West Kahiltna Peak
(April 14) NPS rangers were alerted to an injured climber by a local air taxi service after they had received a text from the team’s Garmin inReach device. The team was located at approximately 9,600 feet on the west face of West Kahiltna Peak, where one of the three climbers had broken his leg in a ten to fifteen-meter leader fall on a pitch of ice. Once NPS personnel were able to communicate directly with the climbing party via satellite device, the team reported a “compound lower leg fracture”. A pilot and two rangers responded via helicopter in favorable weather, locating the patient and teammates on an exposed snow and ice slope directly beneath a vertical rock face. The helicopter was re-configured for a short-haul extraction using a 200-foot line. Due to the steepness of the terrain and the potential for rockfall, the ranger remained on the short-haul line to expedite the extraction. The patient and his closed lower right leg injury were packaged for the short flight back to the staging area. The patient was then transported in a full body vacuum splint for comfort and to help stabilize the leg injury. Once in Talkeetna, the injured climber was transferred to ground ambulance for further treatment and care at the local hospital.
East Face, Reality Ridge, West Fork of Ruth Glacier
(May 3) On the first day of clearing following a storm that lasted more than a week and deposited six feet of new snow, three ski mountaineers left their basecamp with the intention to climb and then ski an east facing couloir on Denali’s Reality Ridge. As the team neared the top of the couloir, they began to have concerns about the snow stability. The team decided to cross the couloir to a spot where they could put on their skis and begin their descent without going any higher. During this transition, one member of the group triggered an avalanche and was swept approximately 1,800 feet down the chute, coming to rest on the surface of the snow at the bottom of the couloir. Although he did not report losing consciousness, he did sustain significant injuries. His partners, who were above him at the time of the avalanche, witnessed the entire event and were able to safely descend to his location. The team contacted their air taxi service via satellite phone, who in turn notified NPS rangers. Rescue operations were streamlined due to the direct satellite communication with the team in the field who provided frequent updates on the patient’s location and condition. A pilot and two rangers departed Talkeetna en route to the Ruth Glacier within 30 minutes of notification. Following an initial patient assessment, rangers loaded the patient in the helicopter then flew to Talkeetna, where the patient was transferred to an ambulance and taken to a local hospital for further care. The patient was treated at the hospital for a dislocated left shoulder, a fractured jaw, a large chin laceration and large contusions on the right thigh and right elbow.
16,500 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(May 20) Two climbers were ascending Denali’s West Buttress at approximately 16,500 feet when they fell off the north side of the ridge. The climbers were roped together, but were not clipped into any fixed protection. Due to the hard surface conditions, they were unable to self-arrest. Ultimately the climbing team’s fall stopped when they fell into a crevasse 1,000 feet below the ridge and just above the Peters Glacier. One of the fallen climbers was able to activate a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which relayed their location at 15,800 feet to Alaska Rescue Coordination Center and NPS personnel.
Mini Moonflower, North Ridge, Mount Hunter
(May 20) A climbing party of two was hit by falling rock and ice debris while rappelling the Mini-Moonflower climbing route on Mount Hunter. The team notified NPS rangers of the accident via Garmin inReach text, reporting that one of them was unable to use their upper left arm due to the blunt force trauma of the rockfall. Nevertheless, the pair was able to continue their descent while both NPS ground and helicopter teams responded to the location in the upper southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. The ground rescue team was able to assess and splint the injury prior to helicopter transport back to Talkeetna. Subsequent reports from the local hospital revealed that the climber had a fractured left humerus that required surgical repair that evening.
14,200 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(May 22) A climber began experiencing signs and symptoms of severe altitude illness during an ascent to the 14,200-foot camp. The patient, who was experiencing shortness of breath at rest, a productive cough and a severe headache, continued to deteriorate throughout the night and the following day. His climbing partners notified the NPS rangers of his worsening condition on May 23 and he was subsequently treated for both high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). The ranger and medical volunteers at the 14,200-foot camp treated the patient continuously for the next 24 hours, but his condition failed to improve. The sick climber was evacuated via NPS helicopter to Talkeetna on May 24,and then transferred to ground ambulance for further treatment and monitoring at a local hospital.
17,200 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(May 31) An NPS ranger patrol at the 17,200-foot camp was contacted by a three-person expedition because one of the climbers was presenting with signs and symptoms of both HAPE and HACE. The team reported that they had ascended to high camp at 17,200 feet from base camp at 7,200 feet in only four days. The NPS patrol completed a patient assessment and noted labored respirations, wet lung sounds and a confused and non-ambulatory patient. The climber was immediately treated for both forms of severe altitude illness (HAPE and HACE) and initiated a helicopter evacuation. Due to the patient’s inability to walk, the NPS team utilized a rescue sled to transport the patient to the landing zone outside of camp. The NPS helicopter pilot and a ranger-paramedic flew to high camp where the patient was loaded internally. The ranger-paramedic continued treatment on board and monitored the patient until he was transferred to a ground ambulance in Talkeetna.
19,500 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(June 1) Shortly after 10:00 pm, NPS rangers were notified via Garmin inReach text that a climber just below the summit ridge was suffering from what appeared to be severe altitude illness. Other climbers in the vicinity had administered two doses of dexamethasone, a steroid used to treat HACE, in hopes that the climber could continue his descent. The severity of the patient’s condition made a time-consuming ground rescue from 17,200-foot camp impractical.
7,800 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(June 3) Two climbers were descending toward basecamp on skis. One of the climbers fell when his gear sled abruptly pulled him to one side. The climber reported feeling and hearing a popping sensation in his left knee during the fall. The injured skier and his partner were able to self-rescue to 7,800-foot camp before the swelling and pain became too great to continue. The following morning, the team of two notified NPS personnel that the patient was no longer able to walk. Once inclement weather cleared, the park helicopter pilot and a ranger evacuated the patient to Talkeetna.
17,200 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(June 5) In the early morning hours of June 5, NPS rangers at the 17,200-foot camp were notified that two climbers on a guided expedition had sustained frostbite injuries during that day’s summit climb and needed medical assistance. The rangers assessed both patients and deemed one to need urgent evacuation due to deep frostbite injury to all ten fingers, all ten toes and his nose. The patient believed that most of the frostbite occurred during the slow descent back to camp and specifically on his fingers when taking off mittens to manipulate carabiners on snow pickets.
14,200 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(June 6) NPS rangers were alerted of an unresponsive and seizing patient in 14,200-foot camp. The climber had been pulled from his tent by fellow climbers in camp after his climbing partner had found him seizing while cooking in their tent during a storm. The ranger patrol at 14,200 feet responded shortly after the patient was pulled from his tent. The patient was initially responsive only to painful stimuli, but after approximately 30 minutes of supplemental oxygen therapy, the patient returned to a fully alert mental status.
14,200 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(June 7) NPS rangers at the 14,200-foot camp were contacted to assist a group of three climbers that reported being unable to continue their descent from high camp. The ranger patrol assisted the climbers to camp and assessed each for a variety of ailments. This team had been at the 17,200-foot camp for the duration of a multiple day storm. They began their descent when the weather cleared, but they were already depleted secondary to dehydration, acute mountain sickness and mild hypothermia. While down-climbing the fixed lines at 16,200 feet, one of the climbers also sustained frostbite injuries to both of his hands. Once in camp, the NPS patrol rewarmed patients, rehydrated others, and treated one for a suspected urinary tract infection. A bulk of the assistance provided to this group involved setting up their camp so that they had a warm and dry place to sleep for the night and to prevent further hypothermia and frostbite in the group. This team was monitored and able to rest and recover in camp for a couple of days before descending on their own.
14,200 feet, West Buttress, Denali
(June 25) A member of a guided expedition descended from 17,200-foot camp with high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) after spending two nights at high camp with shortness of breath and worsening lung sounds. Once the sick climber arrived at the 14,200-foot camp, the NPS ranger patrol treated and monitored the patient. Following a full night of medical care and the physiological benefits of descent from high camp, the patient was able to self-evacuate with his team the following day.
10,900 feet, Thunder Mountain, Mount Hunter
(August 4) A De Havilland Canada DHC-2 (Beaver) airplane crashed into a prominent ridge on the southwest flank of Mount Hunter, informally known as Thunder Mountain. This flightseeing tour had departed Talkeetna with a pilot and four passengers on board. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) was first notified of the crash by the plane’s emergency locator transmitter (ELT). The RCC then notified NPS personnel in Talkeetna who assumed the incident command role. Multiple rescue flights involving civilian, NPS, and military aircraft circled in the vicinity of the ELT signal over the next two days but poor visibility prevented access to the site. Weather conditions continued to hamper rescue efforts until August 6 when a clearing trend made the first evaluation of the crash site possible. The plane was highly fragmented and in technical, glaciated and mountainous terrain. An NPS mountaineering ranger was short-hauled to the crash site and confirmed four of the five on board had sustained fatal injuries. Deteriorating weather halted the operation for the following four days. On August 10, two mountaineering rangers returned to the crash site and were able to conduct a thorough search and site hazard evaluation, and were able to confirm the fifth passenger to be deceased. The Unified Incident Command determined that recovery efforts would then be suspended due to numerous hazards at the crash site and the inability to mitigate the risk to NPS and military personnel.
East Fork, Chulitna River
(August 17) RCC was notified that a 14-foot raft had flipped near mile 187 along the Parks Highway and that one person from the party was unaccounted for. The reporting party reported that he last saw his rafting partner floating down the river with a life jacket, but they ultimately floated out of view. The reporting party searched briefly before walking to the highway, flagging down a vehicle and calling for assistance. Alaska State Troopers established incident command on scene and requested NPS air and ground resources to search the river. While an NPS swiftwater team was mobilizing at park headquarters, a Talkeetna-based ranger responded with the NPS helicopter and pilot. An aerial search was already underway when the team was notified that the subject had made her way to the Parks Highway and flagged down a vehicle without incident.
Annual Mountaineering Summary: 2019
Thank you to the 40 mountaineering Volunteers-in-Parks (VIP's) who teamed up with Denali rangers to staff the mountain camps in 2019. Read about the efforts of the 2019 recipients of the Mislow-Swanson Denali Pro Award.
Statistics compiled by Registration Supervisor Debbie Reiswig
(March 11) A private climbing team ran out of food and fuel during a winter expedition on Denali’s West Buttress. Nearing the completion of their 26-day climbing trip, a large weather system moved over the mountain range and the climbers depleted their 5-day base camp cache of supplies waiting for a flight. These two climbers notified their local air service of their depleted supplies and requested assistance. The NPS prepared multiple contingencies to rescue these climbers by both air and ground during the ensuing days. A predicted break in the weather on day 8 of the storm allowed the air service to retrieve the team and negate the need for any further NPS involvement.
(May 8) A male climber fell while descending Windy Corner on a snowboard at approximately 13,500 feet. The climber lost an edge and was unable to arrest his fall before sliding into an open crevasse. The climber fractured multiple ribs when he landed at the bottom of the crevasse. He was unable to self-rescue due to significant pain from his injuries. This climbing team alerted the NPS rangers in Talkeetna of this incident and were in regular contact during the remainder of this extended rescue. Due to adverse weather and winds at the accident location, the climber and his partner sheltered in place for 5 days until NPS ground personnel were able to reach them and ultimately rescue them via helicopter short-haul.
(May 10) A male climber injured both of his knees during a fall on Denali’s West Buttress at 15,200 feet. This solo climber was able to crawl back down to 14,200-foot camp and notified NPS personnel lower on the mountain by radio of his need for a rescue. This climber also developed frostbite injuries to his fingers while crawling back to camp. Another climbing team in camp was able to assist this injured climber until he could be flown off the mountain three days later when the weather cleared.
Above 14,200-foot Camp
(May 20) A male climber fell while skiing above 14,200-foot camp. This climber was assessed and treated for a suspected dislocated right hip by NPS rescuers. The patient was transported by NPS personnel in a rescue toboggan back to camp. After further assessment and with consultation with medical direction, NPS rangers determined that this climber should be flown to definitive care for dislocation reduction.
(May 20) A male climber was evacuated by helicopter following a deterioration in his condition. The patient was evaluated multiple times by NPS medical personnel over the course of a day for complaints originating in his abdomen. This patient’s nausea and anorexia progressed to bloody vomiting and intense pain. The climber was evacuated by air for further evaluation at a local hospital.
(May 22) A female climber unexpectedly collapsed while ascending toward 7,800-foot camp. NPS rescuers assessed, treated and evacuated the patient to base camp via helicopter. Her vitals began to stabilized and the NPS personnel then accompanied the patient via fixed wing aircraft to Talkeetna. Once in town, the patient was transferred to a local ambulance and taken to the hospital for further treatment.
Upper West Rib
(May 25) A solo male climber was treated and evacuated for severe frostbite injuries to his fingers and hands. This climber ascended and descended the Upper West Rib over the course of roughly 22 hours. Upon returning to 14,200-foot camp, he noticed that he had injured his hands and sought help. He was assessed and evacuated by air with NPS personnel.
Avalanche, Fall while Skiing
(May 28) A male climber fell 700 meters after triggering an avalanche on Kahiltna Queen. This climber was descending the peak on skis and was caught in a slide that he triggered. Air and ground NPS rescuers assessed and treated this patient on scene. The NPS rangers suspected upper spinal injuries and the patient was flown to Talkeetna for further care. Fractures of two cervical vertebrae were later confirmed by x-ray at the hospital.
(May 29) A male climber left for Denali’s summit solo with no food or water and minimal survival equipment. This patient was rescued by a guided party and NPS personnel after falling repeatedly on the Autobahn slope above 17,200-foot camp. The NPS team assessed and assisted this climber throughout the following night before helping the climber to descend to 14,200-foot camp the next day.
(June 6) A male climber was rescued and evacuated from 17,200-foot camp with deep frostbite to most of his toes and fingers. This patient had to be lowered from Denali Pass due to the severity of his injuries. He was then evacuated from camp by helicopter due to his inability to safely descend on his frostbitten feet.
(June 10) A female climber suffering from HAPE was evacuated by air from 14,200-foot camp. NPS ranger assessed and treated the patient until the helicopter to retrieve the patient and transport her for further care at a local hospital.
(June 14) A male climber and his two climbing partners left late in the afternoon for a summit attempt from 17,200-foot camp. When one of the climbers began to exhibit signs of severe altitude sickness, the group split up. During descent, the ill climber became nauseated and had difficulty walking. Another private climbing team helped the patient back to camp. This climbing team was in regular contact with NPS rangers at 14,200-foot camp and took care of the patient for the next 18 hours. Weather prevented NPS rescuers from ascending safely to high camp until late the following evening. Once on scene, NPS rangers evaluated the patient, confirmed the HACE diagnosis and called for a helicopter evacuation given the improving weather trend.
(June 17) A guided female climber injured her right knee after slipping and falling in the group kitchen. This climber had previously injured this knee and assessment by NPS medical providers confirmed an unusable knee injury. Without the possibility of bearing weight, the patient was evacuated to Talkeetna by helicopter from 11,200-foot camp and then taken by ground to a local clinic.
(June 17) A guided male climber was evacuated from 14,200-foot camp by helicopter. This climber was treated for HAPE for two days by NPS personnel without improvement. At that point, it was decided to evacuate this climber when he was unable to spend any time off of supplemental oxygen.
(June 18) Two male climbers attempting to climb Denali’s West Buttress from Anchorage on foot became lost and ran out of food. The climbers were located and rescued after two days of coordinated searching by both local air taxis and NPS rangers near the Hidden Glacier.
(June 22) A male climber on a guided expedition began to suffer from acute mountain sickness at 14,200-foot camp. He and his guides requested NPS assistance. After a full night of treatment in the medical tent, the patient failed to improve and could spend minimal time off of oxygen. This patient was flown off the mountain the next day with another patient who was also being evacuated from 17,200-foot camp.
(June 22) A team of five climbers began calling for help over the radio late in the evening. This team had ascended to the Football Field at 19,500 feet when one of their teammates became ill. The team reported that their sick teammate was unable to continue descent. With medical guidance over the radio from NPS rangers and help from a guided group in the vicinity, the group was able to slowly descend. The patient was helped down from Denali Pass to 17,200-foot camp by ascending NPS rescuers and then treated in high camp throughout the night. With minimal improvement by morning, the call was made to evacuate this patient by helicopter for further care.
During the 2019 climbing season, Denali mountaineering rangers and volunteers treated 18 patients that met our life, limb or eyesight-threatened threshold. Those patients not meeting this treatment guideline were evaluated and advised to self-treat/evacuate. The following list breaks down the field diagnoses from this past climbing season:
On the topic of preventative SAR and medical issues, rangers and mountain volunteers have observed several disturbing trends on Denali that have been on the rise in recent seasons.
Last updated: December 14, 2021